YAOUNDE, Cameroon (AP) — The 79 students kidnapped by unidentified gunmen from a school in Cameroon have been released, but two of the three staff members abducted with them are still being held, a church official said Wednesday.

The students, aged between 11 and 17, were brought to a church near the regional capital of Bamenda, said Fonki Samuel Forba, moderator of the country’s Presbyterian Church.

“They look tired and psychologically tortured,” he said.

Forba pleaded with the kidnappers to free the remaining captives.

The students were abducted Sunday night in part of Cameroon that is beset by violence and instability by armed separatists who want to create a breakaway state called Ambazonia. Fighting between the military and separatists in the northwestern and southwestern regions increased after the government clamped down on peaceful demonstrations by English-speaking teachers and lawyers protesting what they said was their marginalization by Cameroon’s French-speaking majority.

Hundreds have been killed in the past year and the separatists have vowed to destabilize the regions. They have attacked civilians who oppose their cause, including teachers who were killed for disobeying orders to keep schools closed.

Forba said that parents and guardians of the students at the boarding school where the abductions occurred were asked to take them home.

“It is unfortunate we have to close the school and send home 700 children,” he said. “Their security is not assured by the state and armed groups constantly attack and kidnap them.”

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