Seventy-nine pupils were kidnapped on Monday in an English-speaking region of Cameroon where separatists are fighting an armed campaign for independence, a government source said.
The students were abducted along with their principal, a teacher and a driver, the official said, as a source at the school confirmed the kidnapping of the pupils.
They were enrolled at the Presbyterian Secondary School in Bamenda, capital of Cameroon’s Northwest Region – one of two regions hit by attacks by anglophone militants that have met with a brutal crackdown by the authorities.
“The search for the hostages has been launched – every man has been called in,” the government source said, speaking after a crisis meeting.
The kidnapping – the gravest incident so far in 13 months of unrest – coincides with an upsurge of political tensions in the majority French-speaking country.
It comes after elections on October 7 that saw President Paul Biya, 85, who has ruled the country with an iron fist for 35 years, secure a seventh term in office.
Around a fifth of Cameroon’s 22 million people are English-speaking – a minority whose presence dates back to the colonial period.