Attackers armed with rifles and machetes killed at least eight children on Saturday in a raid on a school in southwest Cameroon, the United Nations said.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack on the bilingual school in Kumba, but the region has been gripped for three years by violence between English-speaking separatists and government forces.
“At least eight children have been killed as a result of gunshots and machete attacks,” at the International Bilingual Mother Francisca Academy, according to a statement from the local United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) United.
“Twelve others were injured and taken to local hospitals,” he added, which would make it one of the worst such attacks in the region to date.
Two English-speaking regions of Cameroon, the South West and North West provinces, have long criticized perceived discrimination on the part of the country’s French-speaking majority.
The two regions have become the center of a conflict involving separatist activists who have targeted the military and demanded the closure of local government offices and schools.
The fighting has left more than 3,000 dead and forced more than 700,000 people to flee their homes since 2017.
Authorities did not blame any group for Saturday’s attack.
Chamberlin Ntou’ou Ndong, prefect of the Meme department where the Kumba school is located, however swore that “these people will be taken no matter what. I repeat, no matter what.”
In early September, the army launched its last operation against militants in the North West region.
Since its inception, the movement has become radicalized and the separatists have renamed the regions the Republic of Ambazonia, which has never been recognized internationally.
Their strategy included a school boycott, said Arrey Elvis Ntui, senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Cameroon.
“Around 700,000 young people have been excluded from the school system due to the conflict,” he told AFP.
“The government and English-speaking civil society have put a lot of pressure on separatist groups to allow their children to return to school, and some that had closed in recent years have started to resume classes,” Ntui said.
Last year, two students were killed by separatists in Buea, the capital of the South West region, in what an official called “retaliation” for opposing forced school closings.
In 2018, insurgents killed a principal, mutilated a teacher and attacked several high schools.
Separatists also increasingly resort to kidnappings and extortion, as well as attacks on troops and police, and arson against public buildings and schools.
The government responded with a crackdown, deploying thousands of troops.
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