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Cameroon Rebels Abduct Government Officials in Fresh Wave of Attacks

YAOUNDE, CAMEROON — Cameroon separatist fighters Wednesday claimed responsibility for the killing of four government workers, including a policeman abducted Tuesday in the country's restive English-speaking North-West region. Government officials say two of the hostages, including a government official the military freed, are responding to treatment in a hospital. The abduction and killing followed renewed separatist attacks that have claimed several dozen civilians within two weeks. Cameroon on Wednesday said one of its officials who had been abducted Tuesday evening in the restive English-speaking North-West region bordering Nigeria has been freed by government troops.     Nicholas Nkongho Manchang, the divisional officer for the region’s Bamenda Second District was kidnapped at gunpoint with five others, including a policeman, on their way to an official ceremony in Nkambe town, the government said.      Deben Tchoffo, governor of the North-West region, told a crowd in Nkambe Wednesday that Manchang and another captive were freed after a swift military operation.    "The head of state [president Paul Biya] instructed the security services to set free the hostages," Tchoffo said. "Four hours later, the said administrative authority was freed thanks to the bravery of our military as well as the bravery of the abducted victims. Authorities, living forces (should) continue providing the military with all information to free the hostages that are not yet released."   Tchoffo said the divisional officer known locally as the D.O and the other freed captive are responding to treatment in a hospital in Bamenda, where they were rushed to by government troops.   Christopher Achobang is the spokesperson for the Ambazonia Governing Council, fighting for independence for Cameroon's English-speaking regions from the French majority country.      Achobang said Manchang saved his life by escaping.  "The D.O staged an escape because he fell into a ravine and the fighters were not so ready to get into the ravine to rescue him so they left him there wounded and dying," Achobang said. "He escaped and walked for a long distance where the Cameroon military then found him and took him to a helicopter which evacuated the D.O to Bamenda." Achobang said separatist fighters should have killed the D.O if he did escape. English speaking separatists say they consider divisional officers, who are heads of districts, to be government troops because they undergo military training and as such constitute a legitimate target to fighters.  But Cameroon government officials say divisional officers are civil administrators who represent the Yaounde central government and work for the development of their districts.  Government troops say Manchang drove past the military-led convoy of government officials travelling to Nkambe and fell into an ambush mounted by fighters. Manchang has not explained why he left the convoy.     Separatists say after Manchang escaped, four companions, including a police officer were killed.   The Ambazonia Governing Council said that separatist forces killed the captives to send a message to government troops that claims that separatists fighting for an independent English-speaking have been defeated are unfounded.    The government and military have not commented on the alleged killing of the four captives but on Wednesday night separatists shared pictures of four dead bodies on social media including Facebook and WhatsApp. VOA could not independently verify the authenticity of the pictures.  Civilians, however, say the pictures appear to be those of the abducted government workers.  Cameroon has within the past two weeks reported that separatists killed several dozen people in northwestern towns including Bamenda, Kumbo and Ndop.  The government says at least eleven separatists were killed in military raids in Kumbo and Oku, both northwestern towns.  Separatists acknowledge their fighters were killed and say several governments troops also died in fighting.  Edward Nfor is a member of the Cameroon Civil Society Group and a road contractor working in the Northwest region. He says the current wave of abductions and killings is either unreported or underreported by local media that fear persecution from rebels and the Cameroon government. "Killings are on the rise, kidnapping is on the rise. If heavily guarded government officials are kidnapped, then what about the ordinary civilian. People are moving but they can't move freely," Nfor said. "These boys [separatist fighters] will go out to the village[es]. get out people and say that they are supporting the military and execute them in public. Let the government try to do something and get this thing [crisis] to an end."   Nfor said several dozen people have either been abducted or killed since fresh attacks began in January.     Separatists on social media say they will not spare anyone who reports fighters hiding in towns and villages to government troops.      The separatist conflict broke out in 2016 when Anglophone Cameroonians protested discrimination by the Francophone majority. The United Nations says more than 6,000 people have been killed and the unrest has deprived 600,000 children of education. 

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