Cameroon School Attack Scares Students, Teachers

YAOUNDÉ, CAMEROON — Cameroonian officials say a suspected separatist attack on a school this week, which left four students and a teacher dead, has scared hundreds of teachers and students from going to school. Cameroon's military said it launched a search Thursday for the suspected rebels, who it says were disguised as government troops when they opened fire on the school.

Cameroon's ministry of secondary education said in a statement Friday several hundred students and teachers have not been to school in Ekondo Titi, an English-speaking western town, since the attack.

Thirty-nine-year-old driver Humphrey Ngum is among the parents who have withdrawn their children from schools in Ekondo Titi. Ngum says he is relocating his son to a school in Douala, a French-speaking commercial town due to insecurity in schools in the English-speaking western regions.

"In the university of Buea, there was a bomb that exploded where there were students and also in Bamenda a stray bullet killed at least a student that was coming back from school, so people should be very careful," said Ngum. "As a matter of fact, schooling in the North West and South West {regions} is dangerous, that is why you see people from these insecure regions in the schools that are in neighboring towns like Bafoussam and Douala."

Speaking by telephone from Douala, Ngum said in 2018, he escaped fighting between separatists and government troops in his home town Ekondo Titi and fled to Douala. He said he returned to Ekondo Titi in September when the government assured civilians of their safety and reopened some schools that were closed by separatist fighters in the English-speaking western regions.

The government reported this week that armed attacks on schools scare teachers and students. In Ekondo Titi three students and a 58-year-old French language teacher were shot dead. Another student died a day after he was rushed to a hospital in Buea, a nearby English-speaking town, to be treated for gunshot wounds. All the dead students were between 12 and 17 years of age. Seven students who were wounded are receiving treatment in hospitals in Buea.

The military said explosives were planted by fighters in the school.

Aboloa Timothe is the top government official in Ekondo Titi. He says enough security measures have been taken to protect schools, teachers and students from any further attack. Speaking via WhatsApp, Aboloa pleaded with parents to send their children to school and to the fleeing teachers to return.

"We have deployed our security forces to see if they can get {arrest} the authors of this barbaric act," said Aboloa. "I have had a crisis meeting with my defence and security staff. I have reassured the education stakeholders on the measures provided so that teaching activities should not be interrupted."

In a release on Thursday, the military accused separatists for the attack on the school at EkondoTiti . The military said more than 10 fighters led by Ten Kobo, a self-proclaimed separatist general, masterminded the attack.

Ten Kobo has on social media platforms, including WhatsApp and Facebook, denied involvement in the attack. He said the military committed the atrocity and is blaming fighters to give separatists a bad name to the international community.

The military maintains that the attack was carried out by fighters.

The Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, CHRDA, says it is imperative for both separatist fighters and government troops to spare teachers and school children. Eyong Tarh is a CHRDA official. He says CHRDA is asking the government to investigate the incident impartially and effectively.

"Schools are a sacred area and schools should not be attacked for whatever reasons," said Tarh. "If they {military or separatists} are even pursuing somebody for having committed an offense or a crime and the person enters a school, for the fact that shooting that person will affect pupils or students, that action {hiding in a school}, should keep that person safe. Schools are sacred areas and they should be protected."

Cameroon says at least 11 attacks have been reported on schools in the English-speaking western regions within the past month. At least 10 children have died in the attacks.

The United Nations and International Rights groups have strongly condemned what they call merciless attacks on schools in Cameroon.

Source: Voice of America