Cameroon security forces have freed 18 hostages, including seven Swiss and five Italian nationals, who were kidnapped by English-speaking separatists in the restive southwest region, the government spokesman said.
Issa Tchiroma Bakary said in a statement late on Tuesday that the 18 hostages had been freed on Monday and also included six Cameroonian municipal officials.
The circumstances of the kidnapping and the identities of the hostages were not immediately clear.
Bakary said they had been kidnapped by “secessionist terrorists”, a term used by the government to refer to the English-speaking separatists who want to carve out a new state called Ambazonia from mainly French-speaking Cameroon.
The Ambazonian Defence Force (ADF), the main Anglophone separatist group battling state security forces, denied any involvement in the kidnappings.
“ADF does not take hostages. ADF arrest enablers and collaborators and does not arrest foreign nationals,” Cho Ayaba, a leader of the Ambazonian Governing Council, to which the ADF is loosely affiliated, told Reuters.
The ADF has been responsible for most of the shootings that have killed more than 20 state security agents in a year-long uprising against President Paul Biya’s Francophone government that they say has marginalised the English-speaking minority.
However, a number of smaller armed groups have emerged in recent months in reaction to a government crackdown that has included razing villages in rural Anglophone Cameroon near the Nigerian border.