YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Cameroon’s English-speaking bishops are calling on the government to release “political prisoners” by the national government.
The government is currently fighting a separatist rebellion in the country’s two Anglophone provinces.
The current crisis began in 2017 after government forces ruthlessly put down strikes organized by Anglophone teachers and lawyers over perceived attempts by the majority French-speaking government to destroy the common law and British-style education systems practiced in the formerly British-ruled North West and South West regions of the country.
The breakdown in attempts at dialogue resulted in the growth of several separatist movements attempting to establish a new nation called Ambazonia.
The resulting conflict, now in its fourth year, has killed over 3000 people, with about a million forced from their homes.
The central government held a national dialogue a year ago aimed at ending the crisis and has implanted a $160 million recovery and reconstruction plan for the Anglophone regions. The money is earmarked to rebuild or repair 350 schools, 90 health centers, 40 bridges, and over 12,000 homes.
The United Nations pushed for a 90-day ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid into the region, where the COVID-19 pandemic has been making the situation worse.
“In order that the ceasefire maybe effective, we call for the release of all prisoners connected with the Anglophone crisis as a step in the direction of the resolution of the crisis,” the bishops of the Bamenda Ecclesiastical Province said in a statement Oct.1.
The province – consisting of the Archdiocese of Bamenda and the Dioceses of Buéa, Kumba, Kumbo, and Mamfe – covers the two English-speaking provinces in the country.
“While appreciating the efforts of the government in releasing 333 Anglophone prisoners as a fruit of the Major National Dialogue of 2019, we hereby reiterate our call for the release of all the prisoners of the Anglophone crisis. This will go a long way to pacify the fighters on the ground and get released prisoners to act as agents for the attainment of justice and peace in our communities,” the bishops said.
The President of the unrecognized Republic of Ambazonia, Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe, told Crux that he has met with General Leopold Maxime Eko Eko, Cameroon’s chief intelligence officer, to negotiate a ceasefire and carve a pathway to peace.
Ayuk Tabe said any ceasefire must be predicated by several concessions by the central government.
“What we have told them (the government) is that for there to be a ceasefire, first, the military should be taken away from the streets, from the villages. If the military trucks are moving up and down, there can’t be a ceasefire,” he told Crux.
“We insisted that if you want to call a ceasefire, all people who have been locked up in connection with the crisis should be released,” Ayuk Tabe added.
He also called for “a general amnesty to all Ambazonians around the globe” and said that “a period must be set for negotiations to begin.”
Bishop Michael Bibi, the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Buéa, told Voice of America a cease-fire is necessary for peace to return.
“If we have this fighting every day, it will be very difficult for us to do lots of things that can be done. That is our prayer and our wish that if there is a cease-fire and all the gunshots and all the fighting were to stop, it is going to be very helpful in order for peace to return in both [English speaking] regions,” the bishop said.
Meanwhile, an ecumenical group of Christian leaders in England – including Bishop Declan of Clifton and Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth – have called on the UK government “to work with other European countries on robust diplomatic action to halt the violence” in Cameroon.
“We hear the cry of our sisters and brothers in Cameroon’s Anglophone region, who are facing daily violations of their human dignity. Recent reports of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention and attacks on civilians demand a response from the international community,” the statement reads.
“We also express our closeness to the churches that are working with local communities to reject violence and pursue the path of dialogue, and we assure them that they have not been forgotten,” it concludes.