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Cameroon Separatists Warn Against Reopening Schools in Crisis Zones

Children on the streets asking for education and to be spared from the separatist war, Aug. 31, 2019, in Bamenda, Cameroon. (Moki Kindzeka/VOA)

The new school year in Cameroon begins this Monday with the government determined to reopen at least 4,500 schools closed in its English-speaking regions as a result of the separatist crisis. But the separatists, who have warned that they will not allow any school to be opened unless their leader, Ayuk Tabe and nine others given life jail sentences by a military tribunal, are freed, have already attacked and wounded at least nine teachers for defying their instructions.

Teacher Elmer Tabot, 28, and her two children arrived in Cameroon's capital Yaounde from the English-speaking south western town of Menji on Monday.

She says she is one of the nine teachers who were abducted and beaten by separatist fighters with some of them having their fingers chopped off.

"Our house was burned and a business place that we were managing was burned, so even the transport fare to come here was very difficult," she said. "Things were very hard. People helped us to raise that money that we can reach here. So I have gone through a lot of difficulties."

Tabot says they were accused of defying instructions by separatists for them not to go to school to prepare the opening of the 2019/2020 school year in Cameroon.

The separatists had, on social media, vowed that schools will not resume in the English-speaking regions until their leader Ayuk Tabe Julius and nine of his supporters, given life sentences by a military tribunal in Yaounde, are freed. The tribunal said it had found them guilty of secession, terrorism and hostility against the state of Cameroon.

Deben Tchoffo, governor of Cameroon's English-speaking North West region says the population should not be intimidated and should send their children to school. He says all measures have been taken to protect both teachers and school children.

"The security services assure the population that all is set for class resumption. I am appealing therefore to the population of the north west region that they should send back their children to school. To those that have attempted to send their children elsewhere, bring them back," he said.

Violence erupted in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions in 2016 when teachers and lawyers protested alleged discrimination at the hands of the French-speaking majority.

The government responded with a crackdown that sparked an armed movement for an independent, English-speaking state.

The separatists started attacking schools and kidnapping teachers and students vowing to make the regions ungovernable by the central government in Yaounde.

Laurent Serge Etoundi Ngoa, Cameroon minister of basic education, Yaounde, Aug. 29, 2019. (Moki Kindzeka/VOA)
Laurent Serge Etoundi Ngoa, Cameroon minister of basic education, Yaounde, Aug. 29, 2019. (Moki Kindzeka/VOA)

Laurent Serge Etoundi Ngoa, Cameroon minister of basic education, says the war is completely paralyzing education in the English speaking regions.

Etoundi Ngoa says more than 4,482 nursery and primary schools in the English speaking regions have either been closed, transformed as training grounds for separatist fighters or completely destroyed. He says more than 6,000 teachers and 201, 000 school children are today directly affected by the separatist war.

Before this Monday's school reopening, the Cameroon government dispatched English-speaking elite who joined traditional rulers and the clergy to ask the population to send their children to school. One of them Asheri Vivian Kilo from the North West region says local councils have been handed funds to reconstruct some of the damaged schools.

Asheri Vivian Kilo from North West Region, in Yaounde, Aug. 29, 2019. (Moki Kindzeka/VOA)
Asheri Vivian Kilo from North West Region, in Yaounde, Aug. 29, 2019. (Moki Kindzeka/VOA)

"Councils have credits to build and refurbish schools. Of course the military is taking care of getting the separatists out of the school campuses that have been occupied," said Kilo. "We understand that children have been displaced to Yaounde. They stay with families that were not expecting them and they needed to be assisted."

Tens of thousands of people especially students and teachers have been deserting Cameroon's conflict prone English-speaking regions following renewed fighting provoked by the life jail sentences given the separatist leaders last August 21.