UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is condemning the kidnapping of 79 pupils and three staff members from a Presbyterian school in a troubled English-speaking region of Cameroon and is calling for their immediate release.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric says Guterres stresses that "there can be no justification for these crimes against civilians, particularly minors."

Hundreds have been killed in Cameroon's English-speaking regions in the past year following a government crackdown against separatist protesters who claim that the Anglophone minority is marginalized by the French-speaking government.

Dujarric said Tuesday that the secretary-general reiterates the need for a peaceful solution to the crisis in the English-speaking North West and South West regions "through an inclusive dialogue process." He said the United Nations "stands ready to assist in this regard."