June 28, 2019 / 5:56 PM / 23 days ago

Gunmen kidnap Cameroon opposition leader in restive Anglophone region

YAOUNDE (Reuters) - Unidentified gunmen in Cameroon’s Anglophone region kidnapped the leader of one of the country’s leading opposition parties on Friday for the second time in two months, his party said.

FILE PHOTO: Presidential candidate John Fru Ndi from the opposition Social Democratic Front (SDF) holds his manifesto as he speaks at his final campaign rally outside the national stadium a day before Cameroon's presidential election in Yaounde October 8, 2011. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

Separatist rebels are battling government forces in English-speaking areas of the bilingual central African country, where the Francophone majority has long dominated.

John Fru Ndi, who heads the Social Democratic Front (SDF) and finished runner-up to President Paul Biya in the 2011 election, was seized from his home in the city of Bamenda by gunmen who wounded his bodyguard, an SDF statement said.

Fru Ndi’s current whereabouts were unknown, it said.

Fru Ndi, 77, was also abducted in April in the town of Kumbo during a funeral procession and held for a few hours before being released. The SDF said Anglophone secessionist militants took him and tried to convince him to support their cause, though no one claimed responsibility.

The SDF has called for Biya, who has served as president since 1982, to step down in favour of a transitional government than can resolve the conflict.

But the party has not endorsed secession, angering separatists who turned to violence in late 2017 after the government suppressed peaceful protests against the Francophone majority’s alleged marginalisation of Anglophones.

The United Nations estimates the conflict has killed about 1,800 people and displaced over 500,000 in less than two years.

Switzerland said on Thursday it had agreed to mediate talks between the two sides, although some of the separatists said they would not speak to the government until it ceased hostilities.

Cameroon’s linguistic divide harks back to the end of World War One, when the League of Nations divided the former German colony of Kamerun between allied French and British victors.

Reporting by Josiane Kouagheu; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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