Switzerland on Thursday announced it was mediating in the crisis in two Cameroon regions where anglophones have launched an armed campaign for a separate state from the French-speaking majority.
“At the request of the parties, Switzerland is acting as a facilitator in the crisis in north-western and south-western Cameroon,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Swiss facilitators met with “various Cameroonian opposition groups” from Tuesday to Thursday in the aim of preparing “future peace negotiations,” the statement said.
The communique revealed that this had been the second such “preparatory meeting”.
It did not say where this round of talks had taken place, who had taken part or the issues that were discussed.
Separately, a spokesman said the first meeting had taken place in May in Geneva.
Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest Regions are in the grip of an armed campaign by English-speaking militants seeking independence from the francophone-majority country.
On October 1 2017, they declared the creation of the “Republic of Ambazonia,” covering the two English-speaking regions incorporated into post-independence 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 government responded with a brutal crackdown, and the separatists in turn have mounted a campaign of attacks on state buildings, shooting and kidnappings.
According to the International Crisis Group think tank, 1,850 people have been killed, while more than 530,000 people have been forced from their homes, according to UN figures.
The violence “is taking a heavy toll on the civilian population,” the Swiss foreign ministry said.
“Switzerland has long been committed, both at bilateral and multilateral level, to finding a peaceful solution to the crisis and to promoting respect for human rights in Cameroon,” it said.
“Switzerland is also committed to providing humanitarian aid to the affected local population and has supported Cameroon in dealing with multilingualism.”
Around a fifth of Cameroon’s population of 24 million are English-speakers.
Most of them live in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, which were previously ruled by Britain as the Southern Cameroons.
They were folded into Cameroon in October 1961, 22 months after France granted the country independence.
Anger at perceived discrimination by francophones in justice, education and the economy built for years.
This coalesced into demands for a greater autonomy or a return to Cameroon’s federal structure — demands that 86-year-old President Paul Biya, in power since 1982, has persistently rejected.