€320 000 paid for Cameroon hostages

2011-02-17 21:53

Yaounde - Cameroon paid €320 000 to free a local official and 12 of his aides kidnapped earlier this month in the southwest Bakassi region, a source in the country's security services said on Thursday.

The release of the hostages seized on February 6 was announced late on Wednesday by government spokesperson and Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary.

"The authorities paid a ransom of around €320 000 to the kidnappers of the hostages," the source said, adding that the money had been handed over on Tuesday.

There was no official confirmation on Thursday of a ransom payment.

The source said three or four "pirates" out of 19, all Nigerians, being held in the regional capital of Buea had also been freed as part of the deal.

On February 6 gunmen abducted the sub-prefect of Akwa, in the Bakassi region neighbouring Nigeria, along with 12 other people in his entourage. Tchiroma said later that the official had not been taking the necessary security precautions.

Africa Marine Commando

One report in the daily Mutations suggested that the abductors had demanded more than a billion CFA francs (around €1.5m) for their release.

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

AMC, which seems to have no political motives, has also been behind several kidnappings of foreigners, although all have been released unharmed.

The abductions were followed by a series of other violent incidents, during which two police paramilitaries were killed and in the final clash, one Cameroonian soldier.

One of his attackers was also killed in that attack, and a female bystander was wounded by a stray bullet, said the security source.

Cameroon President Paul Biya was forced to cut short a visit to Switzerland to deal with the crisis.

The Bakassi peninsula, a marshy coastal region rich in fish stocks and believed to have substantial oil reserves, was at the centre of a territorial dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon for 15 years.

In August 2008, the International Court of Justice ruled in favour of Cameroon's claim to the territory.