Five workers with the French medical charity MSF have been kidnapped in Cameroon’s Far North, a region troubled by jihadist insurgents, MSF and a senior local official told AFP on Friday.
Armed men in Fotokol, near the border with Nigeria, on Thursday entered a building used by MSF and “five members of our team were taken away,” the charity said in an email.
The five comprise three aid workers with Chadian, Senegalese and French-Ivorian nationalities, and two Cameroonian security guards, a local administrative official said.
The Far North is a tongue of land that lies between Nigeria to the west and Chad to the east.
It touches on the marshlands of the Lake Chad region, where Boko Haram jihadists and militants from the rival Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) are notorious for attacks on troops and civilians.
In September 2019, six Cameroonian soldiers were killed near Fotokol by suspected Boko Haram members.
Last August, 26 Chadians were killed in the marshlands just on the other side of the border.
But the local official cautioned that there was “no evidence” yet “to connect this incident to (jihadist) attacks.”
“We don’t know if it was a simple robbery that went wrong. A safe was opened,” he said.
“The identity and the motives of those behind it are unclear.”
Violence in the Lake Chad area began with the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria in 2009.
Since then, more than 36,000 people have died, most of them in Nigeria, and three million have fled their homes, according to UN figures.
The attacks prompted countries in the region in 2015 to set up a joint anti-jihadist mission, the Multinational Mixed Force (MMF), gathering troops from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger.
Six MMF troops — four Nigerians and two Nigeriens — died last December during a sweep in the marshlands in which 22 jihadists were also killed, according to the authorities.
ISWAP emerged in 2016 as a splinter group from Boko Haram amid a dispute over the indiscriminate targeting of Muslim civilians and the use of women suicide bombers.
Boko Haram announced last June that its leader, Abubakar Shekau, had died in internecine fighting with ISWAP.
In addition to jihadist attacks in the north, Cameroon is struggling with an insurgency in two western regions, where militants among the country’s anglophone minority have launched a campaign for a separate state.