Nov. 5 (UPI) -- At least 70 schoolchildren in Cameroon were kidnapped by separatists seeking independence for the region, a school official confirmed Monday.
The abduction occurred Sunday at the Presbyterian Secondary School Nkwen in Bamenda, a northwestern city in an English-speaking region of Cameroon. Gunmen stormed the school and rounded up the students, taking them by truck to an unknown destination.
The number of students abducted varies between 70 and 81 in media reports, with several adding that the school principal, a driver and a teacher were also kidnapped. Several students later appeared in an Internet video posted by a separatist group, the Journal de Cameroon reported. On the video, the students give their names, and an apparent kidnapper can be heard saying, "We shall only release you after the struggle. You will be going to school now here. All of us stay here and fight for this struggle inside Ambazonia land."
Hundreds have been killed in clashes between the separatists, who seek independence for two English-speaking regions of Cameroon as a country they call Ambazonia, and government forces. An American minister, Charles Wesco, was shot and killed on Oct. 30 in a firefight on the streets of Bambui, a town near Bamenda.
The abduction of the students comes with an increase in tensions in the largely French-speaking country, sparked by the re-election on Oct. 7 of President Paul Biya.
Biya, who has ruled Cameroon for 35 years, will take the oath of office for the seventh time on Tuesday. His government has been accused of a bias against English-speaking Cameroonians.
"These appalling abductions show just how general population is paying the highest price as violence escalates in the Anglophone region," Samira Daoud of Amnesty International said in a statement. "In a case with a chilling echo of the 2014 kidnappings of the Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria, it is vital that Cameroon's government act swiftly and decisively to reunite these children with their loved ones."