Cameroon leader Paul Biya’s inauguration overshadowed by mass kidnapping

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Gunmen kidnapped 79 school students on Monday in an English-speaking region of Cameroon where separatists are fighting an armed campaign for independence, security and government sources said.

They were kidnapped with three school staff members, but Tchiroma said their fate was not yet clear.

No fewer than 79 students were reportedly abducted on Monday morning with their teacher, the principal and a driver.

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"We shall only release you after the struggle".

There have been kidnappings at other schools, but this is group of children is the largest.

Men who identified themselves as the kidnappers told the children of the conditions for their release.

"I was taken from school last night by the Amba boys", one said, while a heavily accented man shouted at him to "talk louder".

The students were enrolled at the Presbyterian Secondary School in Bamenda, one of two areas where surging anglophone separatist militancy has been met with a brutal crackdown by authorities.

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"Praise God 78 children and the driver have been released", Rev. Forba said.

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.

Several separatist groups, who denied involvement in the kidnapping, alleged government forces took the students.

"These appalling abductions show just how the general population is paying the highest price as violence escalates in the Anglophone region", said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International deputy regional director for West and Central Africa.

Separatist groups had vowed on social media to make the English speaking regions of Cameroon ungovernable. Worldwide actors - especially the African Union, the United Nations, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States - should unanimously condemn violence against civilians and make clear that no political objective justifies tampering with the right to education and abducting sleeping schoolchildren from their beds.

The London-based human rights advocacy organisation has expressed solidarity with the families of the children and called on Cameroonian authorities to "do everything in their power" to ensure all those abducted are freed unharmed. The separatist spokesman blamed government soldiers.

The turmoil in Cameroon comes after President Paul Biya won a seventh term last month in an election the USA said was marked by irregularities.

- Associated Press writer Carley Petesch in Dakar, Senegal, contributed.

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