8 September 2018

Cameroon's Military, Separatists Trade Blame for School Attacks, Kidnappings

Photo: Moki Edwin Kindzeka/VOA
Women protest in Bamenda, Cameroon, in response to a Sept. 3, 2018, attack on the local Presbyterian School of Science and Technology, where six students were abducted.

A steady flow of relatives, friends and well-wishers have been visiting Martina Afanwi at her home this week in Bamenda, an English-speaking town in Cameroon's northwest.

They are encouraging the 40-year-old to have faith that her 11-year-old son, who was abducted Monday from the Presbyterian School of Science and Technology, will be found safe.

But Afanwi is worried because Cameroon authorities have yet to inform her of what they are doing to find her son.

"I feel horrible. My heart is bleeding. It's not normal. Its horrible," she says. "The government needs to take measures. I think they have been sleeping. Nothing is being done."

Afanwi's son is one of six students missing after gunmen attacked the school on September 3, the first day of Cameroon's school year. The students are presumed kidnapped as they never returned home and no bodies were found.

The school principal was discovered unconscious with machete wounds and lapsed into a coma after being rushed to the hospital.

Cameroon authorities say a head teacher was murdered the same day in the northwestern village of Bamali.

The commander of government troops in the northwest, General Agha Robinson, blames armed separatists, who are seeking an independent, English-speaking state.

"About 837 weapons have been seized. The principal was shot with one of these weapons," he tells VOA. "We have deployed our soldiers for patrols, we are securing schools, we have also reinforced security in our borders, where ammunition is being imported."

In social media posts, the separatists denied responsibility for this week's attacks and alleged kidnappings, instead blaming unspecified government-created armed groups.

"Let it be said loudly and clearly that our forces did not commit any act and they only arrived at the schools after the crimes were committed," read one separatist posting. "Our forces were instead there to bring order and chase occupational troops from Cameroon."

Activists like Yah Gladys Viban are calling on both sides to end the conflict.

"We are not name calling, we are not blaming, we are just saying that if we want to build this nation and if we want peace and prosperity for the generations ahead of us, we need to put all the guns down, sit on the table and talk about it. Nothing else will work," she says.

Most schools in Cameroon's restive northwest and southwest have been closed since 2016 because of attacks from the separatists.

In August, separatists said they would allow the schools to re-open but without a security guarantee and at a date of their choosing.

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