A bishop in Cameroon’s troubled South West region said he is saddened by the rising number of kidnappings in the country’s two violence-ravaged English-speaking areas.
Bishop Michael Bibi of Buéa expressed shock over the Feb. 24 kidnapping of 11 teachers of a government-run school for blind and deaf students in the country’s North West region.
“It is sad, very sad that teachers should be kidnapped simply because they are teaching,” Bishop Bibi told Catholic News Service.
“This is just one other kidnap too many,” he said. “The whole idea of kidnapping has become very rampant. The question I am asking myself is why do you kidnap and torture and even kill the very people you say you are fighting to free?”
Cameroon’s English-speaking North West and South West regions have been embroiled in war for the past five years, with separatists fighting to create a new nation to be called Ambazonia.
French is the primary language spoken in much of Cameroon.
Since the conflict began, at least 4,000 people have been killed and more than 1 million forced to flee from their homes. Authorities estimate that 70,000 people have sought refuge in neighboring Nigeria.
Bishop Bibi said separatists kidnap people to raise money, with most of the kidnappings targeting schools as the separatists try to enforce a school boycott.
Bishop Bibi expressed concern that the kidnappings violate the rights of children to an education.
“The bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of Bamenda (in the English-speaking regions) have always maintained that the children have a basic right to go to school. Even in times of war, we should not deprive them of education,” the bishop said.
“We cannot allow our children not to have the opportunity to go to school. Most of the kidnapping now is for financial reasons and settling of scores in some circumstances. These are all attitudes that we all condemn,” he added.
The deputy defense chief for the separatist movement, Capo Daniel, however, insists that the teachers were being punished for violating separatist instructions that all schools controlled by the central government should be closed.
“What we cannot allow is Cameroon setting up schools within Ambazonian Territory. Any Ambazonian who collaborates with the Cameroon state by participating in Cameroon government schools will be considered a traitor,” Daniel said.
He said the separatists were proposing alternative community schools for children, but Bishop Bibi dismissed the suggestion.
“How can you have that kind of school that functions without hope for the children to have a certificate?” he asked.
“Those who kidnapped those teachers should release them, and give them the opportunity to continue to help our children get the basic knowledge that they need,” he said.
Nearly six years ago, English-speaking teachers and attorneys took to the streets to protest what they considered government attempts to wipe out common law and British-based schooling systems practiced in the English-speaking regions.
The government took a hard-line stance, leading to a separatist insurgency bent on setting up an independent country called Ambazonia.
Source: Catholic News Service