A group of 30 women were kidnapped by pro-independence rebels nearly four days ago in western Cameroon, which has been bloodied for more than six years by a conflict between separatists from the English-speaking minority and the security forces, according to authorities.
They were "severely tortured and abducted by armed terrorists" in the village of Kedjom Keku, in the North West region, where armed separatist groups frequently kidnap civilians, mainly for ransom, the prefecture of the Mezam department said in a statement Tuesday.
The authorities always use the word "terrorists" to refer to armed rebels demanding independence for the North-West and South-West regions, which they call "Ambazonia", populated mainly by the English-speaking minority of this predominantly French-speaking central African country.
"A colonel in the army told AFP on Tuesday evening that some 30 women were abducted by separatists on Saturday morning and that they had not yet been found. The communication service of the Ministry of Territorial Administration confirmed to AFP that the authorities had "no news of the hostages" on Tuesday evening.
The day before their abduction, these "elderly" women were organising a "peaceful march to protest (...) against the exactions and criminal activities of the terrorists", the Mezam prefecture said.
The two English-speaking regions have been the scene of a deadly conflict since late 2016 between separatist rebels on one side, who call themselves the "Amba Boys" or "Amba Fighters", and the army and police on the other, both sides being regularly accused by international NGOs and the UN of crimes against civilians.
The conflict has left more than 6,000 people dead and forced more than a million people to move, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank.
The women had "publicly demonstrated" the day before their abduction against "the exploitative activities of the Amba Fighters" and in particular the obligation imposed on civilians by the latter to pay them "monthly taxes of 10,000 CFA francs (15 euros) for men and 5,000 for women (7.50 euros)", explains in a statement the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA), an NGO based in Yaoundé which documents human rights violations in Africa.
The rebels claim that they collect these "taxes" to finance their "war effort for independence".
A video is circulating on social networks, purporting to show these women, sitting on the ground and obviously frightened, which AFP was unable to authenticate but which the CHRDA quotes and describes in its statement, ensuring that it was posted by the "Amba Boys".
Armed men insulted and threatened them, saying they were going to kill the women, whom they accused of "complicity with the military", according to the CHRDA, which denounced a "barbaric act" by their kidnappers.
Some armed rebel groups regularly carry out kidnappings for ransom of civilians, sometimes in large groups like the abduction of these 30 women, especially in schools that they accuse of teaching French.
They also regularly commit targeted assassinations against representatives of the authorities but also against civilians whom they accuse of "collaborating with the army".
Their abuses are regularly denounced by international NGOs and the UN, which also regularly accuse the army of committing fatal blunders against civilians, summary executions, acts of torture and even raids and killings in villages.
The conflict broke out at the end of 2016 after the violent repression of peaceful demonstrations by members of English-speaking civil society, some of whom feel ostracised by the French-speaking majority of this country, which has been ruled with an iron fist for more than 40 years by President Paul Biya, 90.
The latter has been intractable, even towards the more moderate who call for a federalist solution to the conflict, and his regime has deployed the elite army and police on a massive scale for more than six years to suppress the rebellion.