Cameroon’s prime minister Joseph Dion Ngute arrived Thursday in Bamenda, capital of the restive anglophone Northwest Region, with the message that the government was ready for dialogue to resolve the regional conflict with separatists, while stressing that independence was not on the table.
“Apart from the indivisibility of Cameroon, the president of the republic is ready to organise a formal dialogue to resolve the socio-political crisis,” Cameroon state broadcaster CRTV reported the prime minister saying.
Dion Ngute arrived in Bamenda clothed in traditional garb of the Northwest Region.
He was met by a group of 50 women brandishing placards bearing messages such as “we cry for our children” and “conflict is inevitable but violence is a choice”.
Since 2017, fighting between government troops and anglophone separatists demanding independence in the Southwest and Northwest regions has killed hundreds and forced nearly 500,000 people from their homes.
English-speaking communities chafe at what they see as discrimination from the French-speaking majority. But the government rejects demands for autonomy and has dispatched thousands of troops in a crackdown.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Monday that Cameroon authorities have regularly tortured and held incommunicado detainees arrested in the government’s crackdown on the armed separatist movement.
In October 2017, radicals declared the creation of the Republic of Ambazonia, covering the two English-speaking regions incorporated into francophone Cameroon in 1961.
The declaration went largely unnoticed outside Cameroon, and Ambazonia – named after a bay at the mouth of the Douala River – has been recognised by no-one.
The separatists have been blamed for attacks on police stations and schools and for staging mass kidnappings.
On Thursday, accompanied by territorial administration minister Paul Atanga Nji, Dion Ngute held talks with regional officials. He will also visit the other anglophone region, the Southwest Region.
The separatist conflict has forced more than 530,000 people to flee their homes while 32,000 others have sought refuge in neighbouring Nigeria.
The UN Security Council will hold its first meeting this month to discuss the country’s separatist conflict.