YAOUNDE Twenty-seven hostages seized by militant group Boko Haram in Cameroon in May and July have been released, including 10 Chinese workers and the wife of Cameroon's vice-prime minister, authorities said on Saturday.
The freed hostages were flown early on Saturday from the Far North region to the capital, where they are being treated in hospital, Minister of Communications and government spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakary told Reuters.
"You can imagine that after the ordeal they are very happy to be released and very relieved. But they are very weak. They are in very poor physical condition," he said. He confirmed that the hostage takers were Boko Haram.
President Paul Biya was personally involved in securing their release in a process that involved the military, the country's intelligence service and civil society, Bakary said. He declined to give further details.
The Chinese workers were seized in May near the town of Waza, 20 km (12 miles) from the Nigerian border. The vice-prime minister's wife was seized in July, the presidency said.
"The 27 hostages kidnapped on May 16, 2014, at Waza and on July 27, 2014, at Kolofata were given this night to Cameroonian authorities," Biya said in a statement read on state radio. Biya has ruled Cameroon since 1982.
"Ten Chinese, the wife of the Vice Prime Minister Amadou Ali, the Lamido (a local religious leader) of Kolofata, and the members of their families kidnapped with them are safe," it said, giving no further details.
An official from China's embassy in Cameroon confirmed the release of its citizens and said they arrived in Yaounde on a Cameroon government chartered plane, according to Xinhua news agency.
Boko Haram has killed hundreds of people this year, mostly in northeastern Nigeria, as it continues a five-year campaign for an Islamist state.
Most of the killings have been in northeastern Nigeria although the group has also detonated bombs across Nigeria. Boko Haram means "Western education is sinful" in the local Hausa language.
This year Boko Haram has stepped up cross-border attacks into Cameroon, prompting Cameroon to deploy troops to its northern region.
In the past two months, it has also tried to seize territory in remote areas near the Cameroon border, as well as carrying out incursions into Niger and Chad.
The group attracted global condemnation when it abducted more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls in April. There has been little word on their fate.
(Additional reporting by Michael Martina in Beijing and Matthew Mpoke Bigg in Accra; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Aidan Martindale)