By James Tasamba
YAOUNDE, Cameroon (AA) – Cameroon’s President Paul Biya on Thursday ordered the release of hundreds separatist fighters who were arrested during violent protests in the country’s Anglophone regions.
“I have ordered the discontinuance of proceedings pending before military tribunals against 333 persons arrested for misdemeanors in connection with the crisis in the North-West and South-West Regions,” Biya said on Twitter, days after a national dialogue aimed at ending the long-running crisis in the regions was launched.
The talks, which opened Monday at the Congressional palace in the capital Yaounde, are due to end Friday.
But some separatist groups have boycotted them, vowing to stick to calls for the separation of the regions from Cameroon.
Hours after the president’s announcement, local media reported that rebel leaders dismissed the move, saying they were not “accepting an olive branch from someone whose troops are still in our territory.”
According to non-governmental organization the International Crisis Group, about 3,000 people have been killed since violence erupted in 2017 in the Central African state between separatist rebel groups and the government.
English-speaking citizens accused the government of treating them with bias and sparked the crisis.
Eventually there were calls for separation by some of the regions’ leaders followed by protests by professionals such as lawyers and teachers who complained of being marginalized by the French-speaking majority, which reportedly triggered a government crackdown.
Social amenities including health and education facilities have felt the impact of the conflict, with some closing.
Reports indicate that more than 500,000 people have been displaced from their homes due to insecurity.
Anglophone separatists are seeking to form a breakaway state called Ambazonia.