November 26, 2014 / 2:13 PM / 3 years ago

Cameroon army says frees 16 hostages, including Polish priest

YAOUNDE (Reuters) - The Cameroonian army has freed 16 hostages, including Polish Catholic priest Mateusz Dziedzic, who were abducted by rebels from Central African Republic last month, Cameroon’s government said on Wednesday.

Freed hostages react as they arrive at the Nsimalen International Airport in Yaounde November 26, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

However, the rebel force, the Democratic Front of the Central African People (FDPC), said in a statement it had voluntarily handed over the group following the intervention of former Central African minister Karim Meckassoua.

The FDPC abducted Dziedzic on Oct. 12 in western Central African Republic, hoping to use him and 15 Cameroonian hostages as bargaining chips to secure the release of their own leader, Abdoulaye Miskine, who was arrested in Cameroon last year.

It said in a statement that it had released its captives at Meckassoua’s request as a gesture of good faith in a step towards possible political talks. It was not immediately clear if Cameroon had made any commitment about Miskine’s fate

The brother of one of the hostages said the hostages were released in two groups on Tuesday and Wednesday in the towns of Baboua and Beloko where they were abducted in mid-October.

“We saw each other at around 7 this morning and clasped hands. They are all in good health,” said Ludovick Wanou.

The FDPC is one of a number of armed groups that has fought the Central African government and other militants in an off-on conflict in the former French colony over the past decade.

It was briefly allied with Seleka, a rebel coalition that seized power in Central African Republic in March 2013. However, Miskine quarrelled with Seleka commanders and subsequently fled to Cameroon last year, where he was detained.

Reporting by Anne Mireille Nzouankeu and Crispin Dembassa Kette; Writing by Joe Bavier and Daniel Flynn; Editing by Crispian Balmer

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