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Cameroon government, separatists nowhere close to dialogue

The UN estimates that since 2017, about 1,800 people have been killed and more than 530,000 displaced with 1.3 million in need.

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Anglophone Crisis
A man walks among shuttered stores in a district of the majority English-speaking South West region capital of Buea

Prospects for talks between authorities and separatist movements to end escalating violence in Cameroon’s English-speaking region are slim, a senior human rights official said on Friday, dismissing assertions by both sides to be open to dialogue.

A separatist insurgency broke out in 2017 following a government crackdown on peaceful protests in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest, which complain of being marginalised by the French-speaking majority.

Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute has said the government would be willing to talk to the rebels, but would not consider their demand for secession – a position hardline separatists have said they will never accept.

Eleven movements representing Anglophone Cameroon, including the main armed factions, last month said they were willing to enter mediated discussions with the state.

But almost daily violence from both sides has intensified, forcing thousands of civilians to seek refuge in Cameroon’s French-speaking regions and neighbouring countries.

“There is no desire for dialogue … The abuses are coming from both sides and the civilians are finding themselves in the middle,” Ilaria Allegrozzi, Senior Central Africa Researcher at Human Rights Watch, told reporters in Paris.

“The position of the government is an almost complete denial … and there is total impunity for the violence.”

Allegrozzi said separatists were not in denial of the scale of the crisis, but of human rights abuses by their fighters.

The oil, cocoa and timber-producing nation was among western Africa’s most settled until a few years ago.

But the United Nations estimates that, since 2017, about 1,800 people have been killed and more than 530,000 displaced with 1.3 million in need. Authorities have promised to act over accusations of rights violations by security personnel.

Allegrozzi, who was refused entry to the country in May over her research, said divisions amongst armed separatist groups could be an obstacle to form a platform to negotiate, an element the government was using to its advantage.

She cited an International Crisis Group report putting the number of separatists fighters at about 2,000-4,000 fighters and there was evidence that they were acquiring more sophisticated weaponry.

The crisis has tended to slip beneath the international radar given President Paul Biya’s close cooperation with Western states in the fight against Islamist militant group Boko Haram in West and central Africa.

But the United States has become increasingly critical of the government and the separatist crisis was discussed for the first time at the U.N. Security Council last month.

Allegrozzi said the Anglophone population was increasingly in tune with idea of independence. “There is a growing feeling of support towards the separatists and secession,” she said.

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Central Africa Politics

Cameroonian President Biya calls for ‘national dialogue’ to resolve separatist crisis

Biya also offered a “pardon” to any separatists who voluntarily lay down their arms

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Cameroonian President Biya calls for 'national dialogue' to resolve separatist crisis
Cameroon's President Paul Biya. (Photo by LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP)

Cameroonian President, Paul Biya, in a rare public appearance Tuesday, said he intends to hold a major “national dialogue” in a bid to put an end to the conflict between security forces and armed separatists from the anglophone minority in the west.

Over the past two years, Cameroon has been mired in the ethnic unrest which has left more than 2,000 people dead as English-speaking separatists demand independence in two western regions. More than 500,000 people have been forced from their homes as a result according to the Human Rights Watch group.

“I have decided to convene, from the end of this month, a major national dialogue to allow us… to examine the ways and means to respond to the deeply-held aspirations of the populations in the Northwest and Southwest, but also in all the other component parts of our great nation,” the 86-year-old president said in an address to the nation aired on national television and radio.

Biya, who has been in power for 37 years, reiterated his offer of a “pardon” to any separatists who voluntarily lay down their arms, while vowing that those who refuse to do so will face “the full force of the law” as well as the country’s security and defence forces.

English speakers — who make up roughly one-fifth of Cameroon’s 24 million inhabitants — live in regions that were formerly a British colony but voted to join French-speaking Cameroon after the end of colonial rule six decades ago.

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Gabonese President Bongo undergoes ‘routine medical checks’ in London

Bongo’s state of health has been the subject of fierce speculation, as the Gabonese leader has only made a few appearances

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Gabonese President Bongo returns to London for 'routine medical checks'
Gabon President Ali Bongo. (Photo by STEVE JORDAN / AFP)

Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba is undergoing “routine medical checks” in London during a family trip, the presidency said on Monday, denying his health was deteriorating nearly a year after he suffered a stroke.

Bongo’s state of health has been the subject of fierce speculation, as the Gabonese leader has made few appearances and spoken only a few words in public since returning in March after treatment overseas. 

The 60-year-old leader suffered a stroke last October while visiting Saudi Arabia.

“At no time has the president’s health deteriorated, on the contrary … Mr. Ali Bongo Ondimba is on his way to recovering his full physical abilities,” the statement from the presidency said.

It said the Gabonese president remains in charge of the country and would return home soon.

Gabon’s government denied a Bloomberg news agency report, which cited sources familiar with the matter saying Bongo was hospitalised in London with his condition worsening.

“The President of the Republic is not hospitalised (…) but is on a private stay in his London residence where he took a few days off with his family,” the presidency said.

“He is performing routine medical checks and continues his rehabilitation.”

Health checks –

Last month, Bongo appeared in public twice to attend the country’s independence day celebrations, laying a wreath at a tomb and the next day using a long cane to walk to an observation stand for a military parade.

After his stroke, with the initial months of absence and official silence, speculation about his health and fitness to govern were further inflamed when he returned home to Libreville.

Ten members of Gabon’s political opposition, civil society and trade unions had filed a legal petition requesting Bongo be assessed to see whether he is medically fit to continue in office.

But earlier on Monday Gabon’s Court of Appeal refused to hear that suit.

The appeals court has “buried” the case, said Jean-Paul Moumbembe, a lawyer for the petitioners, as he left Monday’s session.

A lower court dismissed the case in May. It said only the two houses of parliament, or the Constitutional Court acting at the behest of the government, were empowered to determine whether the president was unfit.

But on August 12, the Court of Appeal said it would hear an appeal by the plaintiffs. The court’s president was then suspended for two months by the ministry of justice.

It said she had contravened a decision by the Court of Cassation, the paramount authority in Gabon’s judicial system, which had ordered the case dropped.

In her absence, appeals judges on Monday sent the case back to the Court of Cassation, according to Bongo’s attorney, Tony Serge Minko Mi Ndong.

“Either the court will rule in our favour and put an end to this or it will rule to the contrary and send it back to the appeals court,” he said. 

But opposition attorney Moumbembe said: “We should consider this case buried forever” while the Call to Action group which filed the petition, called the appeals court ruling “fixed” justice.

Bongo succeeded his father Omar Bongo, who became head of state in 1967 and died in June 2009, leaving a legacy of corruption allegations.

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Cameroonian separatists’ jailing sparks shutdown protest in anglophone region

The conflict has killed some 2,000 people and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes

Kathleen Ndongmo

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Cameroonian separatists' jailing sparks shutdown protest in anglophone region

Cameroon’s anglophone regions were in shutdown on Monday as schools and shops closed in protest at the sentencing of charismatic separatist leader Julius Sisiku Ayuk Tabe to life in prison.

Troops were seen patrolling the streets in flashpoint areas and in Bamenda, the capital of the anglophone Northwest Region, residents reported hearing sporadic shooting and explosions.

Since 2017, Cameroon’s army has battled anglophone separatists seeking an independent state in response to perceived discrimination from the country’s francophone majority. 

The conflict has killed some 2,000 people and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes. 

After two years of fighting, schools across English-speaking regions, for the most part, have remained shut, and the government and civil-society organisations had wanted children to return to school as normal this September. 

However, separatist leaders decided to put anglophone towns on shutdown from Monday for a period of two weeks, after a military court last month sentenced Ayuk Tabe, in a ruling many feared would deepen the crisis.

“It seems that most residents in the Northwest and Southwest regions are abiding by the lockdown,” James Nunan, the head of the UN’s humanitarian affairs office (OCHA) in the two areas, told reporters.

Most schools and shops remained closed in Buea, the capital of the Southwest region, according to a local charity worker who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons. Other Buea residents confirmed the city was at a standstill.

Flashes of violence were reported in Bamenda.

“Soldiers are occupying the streets and very few people have left their houses,” said a regional official who chose to remain anonymous.

Two other Bamenda residents said there had been unrest. “The streets are full of soldiers, no-one is outside, we heard gunshots in the city this morning,” said one. Another reported hearing explosions. 

Reporters were unable to independently confirm the reports. 

Separatists have been pursuing the so-called “dead city” protest tactic since 2017, bringing towns to a standstill every Monday.

English speakers — making up roughly one-fifth of Cameroon’s 24 million inhabitants — mostly live in the country’s Northwest Region and Southwest Region. 

The regions, formerly a British colony, voted to join French-speaking Cameroon after the end of colonial rule six decades ago.

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