Cameroon negotiates release of hostages

2011-02-10 09:55
Yaounde - Cameroon authorities have opened negotiations for the release of 13 officials kidnapped in the disputed Bakassi peninsula, a source close to the security service said on Wednesday.

The 13 officials, including the region's sub-prefect, were taken hostage earlier this week in two attacks that also killed two police paramilitaries.

A government spokesperson on Wednesday confirmed the number of kidnapped at 13. Earlier it was believed 11 people had been kidnapped.

A local security source blamed the raid on members of the Africa Marine Commando (AMC), a shadowy group which claimed responsibility for an attack last November on an oil platform off Bakassi in which six people were killed.

AMC has also been behind several kidnappings of foreigners, although all have been released unharmed.

"The authorities have been negotiating with the rebels since Monday," the source said.

He added that the hostage-takers wanted a lot of money but did not say how much.

The daily Le Jour however said the AMC was demanding payment of a monthly premium of $200 000 by each of the five oil companies operating in the Bakassi area.

Territorial dispute

Cameroon President Paul Biya, who returned home late on Tuesday after cutting short a visit to Switzerland because of the attack, said he wanted the negotiations to yield results as soon as possible, according to the security source.

On Tuesday, an official in Bakassi said the hostages were in good health.

"From everything that the sub-prefect tells me, I believe they (the hostages) are in good health," Peter Tieh Nde, the prefect of the Dian region, told AFP by telephone.

"They have not been assaulted. They cannot be held in Cameroon because we absolutely control our territory," he added.

The Bakassi peninsula was at the centre of a territorial dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon for 15 years. It was handed to Cameroon in August 2008 after the International Court of Justice ruled in Yaounde's favour.

The marshy coastal region is rich in fish stocks and believed to have substantial oil reserves.

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