Cameroon’s president orders release of 300 separatists

Cameroon’s president on Thursday freed more than 300 separatist fighters from the country’s Anglophone regions in an effort to calm a conflict that has killed nearly 3,000 people in the past two years.

(AP) — Yaounde, Cameroon

President Paul Biya made the decision “in a bid to ensure that peace returns to Cameroon’s restive English-speaking regions,” according to a statement by Secretary General Ferdinand Ngo Ngo. The order discontinues court proceedings against 333 fighters accused of misdemeanors but does not apply to their leaders who were sentenced to life in prison by a military tribunal in August.

National dialogue seeks to end conflict

Cameroon is holding a national dialogue this week to try to resolve the conflict but other key separatist figures refused to attend. They demand that the government release their leader, Julius Ayuk Tabe. The rebel groups also said they would agree to negotiations only if they take place in a foreign country with United Nations mediators and in the presence of world powers such as the United States, Britain, France and Germany.

A deadly internal conflict

The violence in Cameroon’s English-speaking North West and South West regions has displaced more than 500,000 people from their homes. The unrest first erupted in 2016 when teachers and lawyers protested against alleged discrimination at the hands of Cameroon’s French-speaking majority.

Government hopes some fighters will give up struggle

Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute has led this week’s talks, which include delegates from civil society groups, lawmakers, traditional rulers, clergy and Cameroonians who live overseas. The hope, he said, is that even without the presence of the separatists many fighters would give up their struggle.

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