YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - Armed separatists fighting for the creation of an English-speaking state in Cameroon have abducted at least seven traditional rulers they accuse of collaborating with the government. Some of the leaders are also accused of calling for the participation in this year’s presidential poll, against the wishes of the armed groups.
As a choral group of the Our Lady of Victories Catholic cathedral in Yaounde sings at an inter-religious church service to pray for peace to return and for the kidnapped traditional rulers to be freed, Reverend Edward Njini of the Baptist church says it is unfortunate that the separatists have targeted traditional rulers who are simply custodians of ancestral values.
"We are praying for them to have courage," he said.
The chief of Wokeka village, Njoke Johnson Njombe, is one of the abducted leaders. In a video released by the separatists, he urged all English-speaking Cameroonians in the northwest and southwest regions not to vote in the October 7 presidential election.
"I am telling all the chiefs of the southwest region to come out and support the Ambazonian struggle so that the Ambazonia people can rightfully get their independence which rightfully belongs to them."
Ambazonia is the name separatists have given to their would-be state in Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions. Most of the central African country speaks French.
Johnson Njombe was abducted last Friday along with six of his peers from their homes in and around the town of Buea and taken to unknown destinations.
The chiefs had encouraged people to vote on election day, and allegedly cooperated with security forces to flush out suspected separatists.
The government of Cameroon has called for calm and assured the population the military is working to free the traditional rulers.
The separatists have grown increasingly aggressive in recent months. Dozens of policemen and government administrators have been abducted within the past two weeks. In March, the separatists kidnapped about 40 people including Ivo Leke Tambo, a senior government official.
The government says hundreds of people, including more than a hundred policemen and soldiers, have died in violence since January, when Nigeria detained and then extradited separatist leader Ayuk Tabe Julius and 46 other alleged separatists to Cameroon.
The separatist groups are demanding the 47 detainees, who have not been seen in public, be released.