Yaounde — COUNTER-accusations by parties to the conflict in Cameroon have cast uncertainty over the safety and whereabouts of about 80 students kidnapped northwest of the country earlier this week.
Unknown gunmen abducted 79 students from Nkwen Presbyterian High School in Bamenda, a largely English-speaking region where militants are advocating for autonomy from the Central African country on Monday.
It is the latest escalation of violence emanating from local communities alleging marginalisation by the government dominated by French speakers.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for Monday's mass kidnapping.
A government official accused the English-speaking separatist groups, but the group denied any involvement and condemned the attack, insisting they did not target civilians.
Others have accused pro- government forces of abducting children in order to tarnish the separatists' reputation.
Neither the government nor the separatist groups have provided evidence to support their accusations.
The government of President Paul Biya had committed to launch an investigation into the abduction but rights groups argued its own forces had committed serious abuses in the context of the conflict, including village attacks and extrajudicial killings of civilians.
Rights advocates thus called for the intervention of the international community to resolve the crisis.
"The kidnapping may be just the tip of the iceberg. In the absence of rapid international action, the crisis is likely to worsen," human rights researcher, Jonathan Pedneault, said.
Hundreds of people have been killed, dozens of schools attacked and 250 000 people forced to flee over the past two years.