YAOUNDE, Cameroon (AP) – More than 30 women kidnapped by separatist rebels for protesting illegal taxes imposed on them have been released, the government said Friday.
The women were taken earlier this month from Babanki, a farming village in the northwest region, along the border with Nigeria.
“We took the women to hospitals where they are being treated for injuries and psychosocial support,” said Simon Emil Mooh, a local government official.
The separatists collected monthly payments from children, women and men, imposed taxes on couples before they married and forced families to pay $1,000 to bury their relatives, he said.
The central African nation has been wracked by fighting since English-speaking separatists launched an insurgency in 2017, with the stated goal of breaking away from the majority French-speaking region and establishing an independent English-speaking state.
The government accused the separatists of committing atrocities against English-speaking civilians. The conflict has killed more than 6,000 people and displaced more than 760,000 others, according to the International Crisis Group.
Some of the released women told The Associated Press that they had been tortured while in captivity.
“The separatist fighters beat me with weapons after stripping me naked,” Vukom Elizabeth told the AP on Friday by phone from the hospital where she was being treated. The rebels broke her left leg and arm, she said.
Separatist leader Capo Daniel said the women were freed after they promised to stop protesting, but warned that people would still be punished if they continued.
The governor of Cameroon’s North West region, Deben Tchoffo, has called for community cooperation to stop the crimes and said the government will do whatever it takes to protect women from separatist brutality.