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Anglophone Cameroon: Fear and anger after massacre of students

By Franck Foute, in Yaoundé
Posted on Sunday, 25 October 2020 16:32, updated on Monday, 26 October 2020 10:48

A soldier from the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) in Buea, English-speaking Cameroon, in October 2018
A soldier from the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) in Buea, English-speaking Cameroon, in October 2018. Illustration photo. © REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

The murder of eight students at a private school in Kumba exposes the deadly gridlock in the English-speaking southwestern regions.

Residents of Kumba have been in shock since the assassination, in the grounds of Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy, of eight students who were shot by as yet unidentified individuals who burst into the private school on Saturday.

According to eyewitnesses, nine individuals dressed in civilian clothes and not hooded burst in on motorcycles shortly before the school’s noon break.

The area around the school was crowded with students. In the English-speaking regions of Cameroon, Saturdays are a regular school day because of Operation Dead Cities Monday, which cuts the week by one school day.

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After firing into the air, some of the assailants entered the form one class – which is the sixth grade in the English-speaking education system – armed and opened fire on the young students.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) refers to the children as cut down by machetes. The report also mentions about fifteen injured.

Anger grows

According to the Cameroonian authorities, this attack is unequivocally “the work of the separatist militias”.

If many inhabitants of Kumba agree, the ease with which the attack was carried out stirs deep anger. “We were assured that our children would be protected at school”, says John Enow, whose 11-year-old neighbour’s son is one of the eight victims. He wonders how this could have happened. “No cause can justify the murder of innocent children.”

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In a statement published on the night of 24 October, government spokesman René Emmanuel Sadi said that the college had opened at the beginning of this school year “without the knowledge of the competent administrative authorities,” hence the lack of protective measures.

This argument is rejected by several sources in Kumba. “This school has been in operation for at least three years,” said one source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The killing provoked strong emotion.

Cameroonian Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute held an extraordinary ministerial council. At its conclusion, a delegation led by the Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji and including the Ministers of Secondary Education and Education was sent to the scene.

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On the ground, the prefect of the department indicated that measures had been taken “to catch the perpetrators of this heinous crime” and that they “will answer for their actions before the Cameroonian courts”.

Calls for the resumption of talks

Through its embassy in Cameroon, the United States condemned “in the strongest terms” this attack and called for an end to the violence.

The President of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said he was “horrified” by the news, as did the French Ambassador to Cameroon, Christophe Guilhou, who called for the perpetrators to be “brought to justice and condemned”. As for the European Union, it denounces “a violation of international law on civilian populations”.

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For its part, the Cameroonian opposition has called for the resumption of talks with all actors in the conflict with a view to a ceasefire. The leader of the Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon, Maurice Kamto, said that only “a political solution” could bring peace.

More critical, Jean Michel Nintcheu of the Social Democratic Front (SDF) questioned the assurances given by Yaounde about the security of schools. “This failure has in fact transformed the students into a human shield, the responsibility of the regime is clear” he denounced.

“Only the resolution of the national dispute and the return to federalism can lead in the short or medium term to a lasting peace.”

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