Cameroon’s government says gunmen abducted at least 11 teachers in Cameroon's northwest town of Kumbo early Tuesday morning. No one has claimed responsibility for the abductions, but residents suspect the teachers were taken by separatists.
A 45-year-old teacher said fighters attacked Presbyterian School Kumbo at about 8 a.m. Tuesday. The teacher, who asked not to be identified for fear of being targeted by separatists, said children had just finished their morning prayers when the fighters moved in and kidnapped 12 teachers.
"We came in the morning, did some devotion and surprisingly, the whole place was covered with armed gangs. All of us were taken. I escaped on the way so I do not know for certain the direction, I don’t know the camp in which they were taken to," he said.
The teacher said he and his fellow instructors were taken away on motorcycles, but that on the way, he jumped into a bush and escaped. He said no children were abducted. The other 11 teachers remain captive.
Businessman Tatah Leo said when he heard the news, he went to the school and picked up his children. He said the panic caused by the arrival of the armed men made the kids run to neighboring homes and the Roman Catholic cathedral that is just 80 meters away.
Tatah said 200 children, who were excited to return to school after four years of the separatist crisis, are now scared and may be deprived of education this year yet again.
"The children who are here are the most desperate children. We feel so bad and disappointed because if you see the anxiety in which these children started school, you would have just been marvelled. But now everybody went back. Some of them are even crying. We the parents are feeling very, very disappointed," he said.
Military and government officials in Bui, the administrative unit where Kumbo is located, have confirmed and condemned the attack, blaming separatist fighters. No one has claimed responsibility.
Before the school year began in Cameroon on October 5, the government assured parents that security was returning to the restive English-speaking regions and children could return to school.
But some separatist groups said they could not assure safety for children at school and asked the central government in Yaounde to withdraw the military before any schools reopened.
Peter Ndikum, president of the Cameroon Union of Parents and Teachers, said teachers are ready to do their jobs. He says teachers just want to be safe.
“The community must be ready to pull on with the teachers, the state should understand that the main concern of the teachers is the element of security. We call on the teachers to do everything possible to take up their responsibility, it is a vocation. We have been taught to do that in very difficult conditions and the teachers should be ready to brave that."
The abduction took place about 10 days after suspected separatist groups attacked another school in the southwestern town of Kumba, killing seven children.
Separatists fighting to create an English-speaking state in western Cameroon have battled the government for the past three years.
The U.N. says violence has claimed more than 3,000 lives and caused the displacement of more than 530,000 civilians.