Thirty elderly women kidnapped by separatists in Cameroon’s restive anglophone region a week ago after protesting against taxes levied by them have been freed, a government official told AFP Saturday.
The women were released on the evening of May 23, three days after they were abducted in the mostly English-speaking Northwest region, said Denis Omgba Bomba, head of the communication ministry’s National Media Observatory.
The “elderly” women were “kidnapped by heavily-armed terrorists” in the village of Kedjom Keku a day after taking part in protests against monthly taxes demanded by the separatists, local officials said earlier this week.
They also said the women had been “severely tortured”.
The government typically uses the phrase “terrorists” in connection with armed insurgents from the majority-francophone country’s English-speaking minority, who are fighting to establish an independent homeland.
A mayor in the region confirmed the release of the hostages to AFP, asking to remain anonymous.
Omgba Bomba said he did not want to give further details on the women’s release or their condition, except to specify that one had a broken leg.
He also said that originally around 50 women were kidnapped and “severely beaten” but released the same day.
The next morning the rebels returned and kidnapped 30 women.
The women had demonstrated against “monthly taxes of 10,000 CFA francs ($17) for men and 5,000 for women” levied by the insurgents, according to the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa.
– Taxes –
The rebels have said they levy the taxes to finance their “war effort for independence”.
Violent clashes erupted in late 2016, after which militants calling themselves “Amba boys” declared an independent state in the Northwest and Southwest regions, home to most of the anglophone minority.
The conflict has claimed more than 6,000 lives and forced more than a million people to flee their homes, according to the International Crisis Group.
Both the separatists and government forces have been accused of atrocities in the fighting.
Armed groups are regularly accused of abducting, killing or injuring civilians whom they accuse of “collaborating” with Cameroonian authorities.
NGOs and the UN accuse the government of repressing dissent in the English-speaking areas as well as clamping down hard on political opponents.