Attackers armed with weapons and machetes killed at least eight children Saturday in an attack on a school in southwestern Cameroon, the UN said.
No groups claimed responsibility for the attack on the bilingual school in Kumba, but the area has been captured in violence between English separatists and government forces for three years.
“At least eight children were killed as a result of gunfire and attacks with machetes,” said Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy, a statement from the local UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“Another twelve were injured and taken to local hospitals,” it added, making it one of the worst such attacks in the region to date.
A source close to police added that the children were killed when a “group of nine terrorist attackers” stormed the school and opened fire on students aged 9-12.
“There are no words of grief or condemnation strong enough to express my horror at the brutal attack on primary school children … while sitting and learning in their classroom,” said African Union President Moussa Faki. Mahamat on Twitter.
“I unreservedly condemn the barbaric acts committed in Kumba. To kill children … is to attack the very foundations of our nation,” said Cameroon’s Minister of Public Health Malachie Manaouda.
Two English-speaking regions in Cameroon, south-western and north-western provinces, have long been opposed to perceived discrimination by the country’s French-speaking majority.
The two regions have become the center of a conflict involving separatist militants who have targeted the army and demanded the closure of local government offices and schools.
Fighting has claimed more than 3,000 lives and forced over 700,000 people to flee their homes since 2017.
Authorities did not accuse any group of Saturday’s attack.
However, Chamberlin Ntou’ou Ndong, prefect of the Meme department where the Kumba school is located, promised that “these people will be caught whatever it takes. I repeat whatever it takes.”
In early September, the Army launched its latest operation against militants in the northwestern region.
Since its inception, the movement became more radicalized, and separatists renamed the regions the Republic of Ambazonia, which has never been internationally recognized.
>> Cameroon: ‘Ambazonia’, a thousand-day conflict
Their strategy included a school boycott, said Arrey Elvis Ntui, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group in Cameroon.
“About 700,000 young people were excluded from the school system because of the conflict,” he told AFP.
“The government and British civil society have put a lot of pressure on separatist groups to let their children go back to school, and some that were closed in recent years have begun to resume teaching,” Ntui said.
Last year, two students were killed by separatists in Buea, the capital of the southwestern region of what an official described as “retaliation” for opposing forced school closures.
In 2018, rebels killed a principal, maimed a teacher and attacked several colleges.
Separatists have also increasingly used kidnappings and extortion along with attacks on troops and police and arson attacks on public buildings and schools.
The government has responded with a fierce attack and deployed thousands of soldiers.