YAOUNDE, Cameroon – Cameroon's President Paul Biya, Africa's oldest leader, was inaugurated Tuesday for his seventh term in office amid rising separatist troubles.
The 85-year-old, who has been in power since 1982, was sworn in as unrest reigned in the country. Biya asked all fighters to drop their guns, threatening further military action. He said he would work to be sure peace returns to Cameroon.
Opposition parties have demonstrated against Biya's re-election, and violence has increased in the North West and South West regions, where armed separatists are fighting for an independent state. Cameroon also faces the threat from Boko Haram extremists crossing the border from Nigeria.
Biya's inauguration comes days after 79 pupils and three staff members were abducted from a school near the northwestern regional capital Bamenda.
A video was released on social media Monday by the apparent kidnappers, showing some of the boys saying they were taken by separatists fighting to create the independent state of Ambazonia.
However, the Ambazonia Governing Council, the separatists' official organization, released a statement saying it condemns the kidnappings and demands their release. It said it is investigating the abduction.
The council called on the military to withdraw from the regions it calls Ambazonia, to avoid further escalation of violence.
Fighting between the armed separatists and security forces has killed hundreds and posed a serious challenge for Cameroon, a close U.S. security ally against extremism and a new member of the U.N. Human Rights Council.
The unrest has also forced tens of thousands to flee, as schools and homes have been attacked and civilians are caught in the crossfire. That meant that the Oct. 7 election saw few voters in English-speaking regions.
"The objective of the secessionists is against our constitution that consecrates the indivisible nature of our nation," Biya said Tuesday at his inauguration. "We have started implementing measures to attend to the grievances raised by teachers and lawyers by accelerating the decentralization process."
The unrest began in November 2016 when English-speaking teachers and lawyers in the northwest and southwest began calling for reforms and greater autonomy in the largely French-speaking country. They marched in the streets, criticizing what they called the marginalization of English speakers by French speakers.
Armed separatists later took over the protests and began using violence to demand an independent state.
Petesch reported from Dakar, Senegal.