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French nationals kidnapped in northern Cameroon

Seven French nationals have been abducted in Cameroon, French President François Hollande confirmed on Tuesday. FRANCE 24's sister network Radio France International had earlier reported that those kidnapped were taken by armed men on motorbikes.


Seven French nationals, including four children, have been abducted in Cameroon, French President François Hollande confirmed on Tuesday. Radio France International (RFI) earlier reported that the kidnapped French nationals were taken by armed men on motorbikes toward the border with Nigeria.

The seven were kidnapped by a Nigeria-based "terrorist group well known to us", Hollande said, in what was likely a reference to Islamist group Boko Haram, although no group has yet claimed responsibility.

The French tourists are thought to have been taken from the town of Dadanga, 6 kilometers (4 miles) from the Nigerian border, after visiting the Waza Park nature reserve.

A source from Waza Park said the tourists arrived at the reserve on Monday. "They slept in the park's tourist camp where they left this morning," the source said.

They were taken by five individuals on motorbikes around 7am local time, according to Sarah Sakho, RFI’s correspondent in Cameroon.

Sakho said the family's vehicule had been recovered close to Cameroon’s border with Nigeria.

Waza Park attracts mainly foreign tourists and the area suffers from raids by bandits based in Cameroon, Chad and neighbouring Nigeria, who sometimes abduct locals for ransom.

Stuck in the sand

A Cameroonian trader, who insisted on anonymity, told the Associated Press that he witnessed the abduction by chance while driving back from Nigeria. He said the French vehicle became stuck in the sand near Dabanga. A group of armed men on motorbikes then came up and forced the Europeans to leave their car.

The hostages were apparently taken away despite a crowd of people watching. “Nobody could help the white men because the kidnappers were heavily armed and they threatened to shoot anyone that approached,'' the trader said.

Cameroon security forces were scouring the area for signs of the abducted family. “As I speak to you right now, helicopters are flying over the entire province, and specifically in the administrative area of Waza in search of the kidnapped tourists,'' a regional delegate for the Ministry of Forest and Wildlife, Jean-David Ndjigba, told the AP.

CLICK TO ENLARGE MAP Dadanga lies in Cameroon's extreme north, in a narrow strip of land sandwiched between Nigeria and Chad.

“We are, of course, in constant contact with the authorities in Cameroon as well as in Nigeria,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told a news conference in Paris on Tuesday. “As always, we will do our best, with the utmost care and determination, to try to rescue our compatriots.”

It is the first time that Western tourists have been kidnapped in Cameroon, although hostage-taking frequently occurs off the Cameroonian coast, the last such incident on February 8.

A little-known Islamic extremist group calling itself Ansaru claimed responsibility on Monday for a separate abduction of seven foreign workers in Nigeria over the weekend.

A total of 15 French citizens are currently being held in West Africa. In addition to the seven kidnapped in Cameroon, there is one being held in Nigeria and seven thought to be in northern Mali.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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