BUEA, CAMEROON - Thousands of parents are withdrawing their children from schools in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon after armed men attacked and wounded dozens of people in their institutions. Separatists fighting for the Independence of the English-speaking regions of Cameroon had warned parents not to send their kids to school stating that they could not assure safety.
Dozens of villagers and parents searched the forested areas around Sasse, a neighborhood in the Southwestern town of Buea early Tuesday, looking for students who fled after armed med attacked the Saint Joseph's College late Sunday. Several dozen people were wounded in the attack.
Senator Charles Mbella Moki, a lawmaker from the English- speaking Southwest region of Cameroon who is leading the villagers, says they are happy they found the three students who were still missing.
"With the assistance of some good Samaritans, we picked up some of the students who had escaped. Some of them had wounds, some of them were so traumatized," said Moki. "Some did not know where they were, some were in their night dresses and so on. In fact it was so pathetic, emotional but all of the student body of Sasse that was in school has been appropriately, adequately accounted for."
Bernard Okalia Bilai, governor of the south west region of Cameroon, said an unknown number of armed men attacked the school, its students and staff. He said some of the children, with ages ranging from 9 to 17 years, received machete wounds and others were shot with locally made guns, but fortunately, none were killed.
After the incident, parents withdrew their children from the school, which has more than 500 students. Half a dozen other schools in the English-speaking Southwest urged parents to take their children home. Other parents were already withdrawing their kids.
Teacher John Nlom who left with his three kids from Saint Josephs College-Sasse says he does not trust the governor's assurance that they will be safe.
"The governor himself who is saying that people should stay back, that they are protected, he is moving around with soldiers protecting him," said Nlom. "Will the soldiers protect all the people? That is the reason why I can not say. I have to leave."
Cameroon's minister of secondary education, Professor Nalova Lyonga, is pleading with school administrators in safer locations to accept the displaced children even if their classrooms are congested.
"Please accept all children who are transferring from the north west or the south west as a result of the crisis," said Lyonga. "Accept every child who comes in and who wants to move. Address the problem further up to the ministry, to the governors, the local administrators and then send it to us. Where there is an overflow, we are definitely going to move the rest of the students to some other place"
Last month, armed separatists on social media warned parents against sending their children to school. They said they could not guarantee the safety of children at school since their fighters will be in running battles with the military to stop the organization of the October 7 presidential election.
At least 70 schools have been torched since crisis began in Cameroon English-speaking regions in 2016 when teachers and lawyers protested the overbearing use of the French language in the bilingual country. Separatists took over and requested the creation of an English-speaking state and the government declared war on them. At least 300 people including 130 soldiers and the police have been killed. Many are missing.