YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Archbishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya, the top prelate in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions, says the effects of the five-year secessionist war in the country “have been devastating.”

Nkea is the archbishop of Bamenda, and the metropolitan archbishop of the entire territory encompassing the North West and South West regions of Cameroon, which speak English as opposed to the French used in the rest of the country.

Fighting broke out in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions five years ago when lawyers and teachers went on strike over attempts by the government to do away with the common waw and British education systems inherited from their English colonial rulers.

The demonstrations were violently put down by the central government, and a separatist movement started seeking to create a new nation – called Ambazonia – for the 20 percent of the country that speaks English.

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“Definitely, this crisis has gone on for too long for any of us to either be indifferent or to seek to justify,” Nkea said during the 6th National Congress of the Catholic Men Association, which ended in Yaoundé on Sunday.

“The effects of the war have been devastating and the facts on the ground are there for anyone to see: Villages and institutions have been burnt down and are today left in ruins; thousands of poor people are internally displaced and others have become refugees in neighboring countries, living in horrifying human conditions; human lives have been lost in the thousands and the atrocities committed against innocent civilians have been outrageous,” the archbishop said.

The fighting has killed at least 3,500 people and forced more than a million from their homes, according to the United Nations. The separatists have also enforced a school boycott in the two provinces, keeping children from receiving an education for years.

“In fact, no one will probably ever give us the true figures of our people who have been killed or simply unaccounted for. Some have died out of shock at what they have seen and experienced,” Nkea said.

He noted the combatants don’t seem to observe any international conventions or the laws of war, making everyone and anyone a target of kidnapping, arbitrary arrest, and torture.

“Hence, we find an entire population of the North West and South West regions living in fear and insecurity. We have lost most of our talented young men and women,” he said.

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“A good number of our cultural legacies and institutions have been destroyed, and a vast majority of our people are still hurting even as we write this pastoral letter. Kidnapping, shooting, fighting and killing are still going on in various areas of our two affected regions, and there seems to be no clear sign that these will soon stop,” Nkea said.

Speaking to the men’s meeting, Nkea noted that it is “part of our responsible fatherhood to ensure that our children go to school and to ensure that our environment is safe and peaceful enough for our families to live happily.”

“This is a challenge to us in our present socio-political context. Every friend of Saint Joseph must be pro-peace and pro-school. Anything to the contrary is irresponsible fatherhood.”

He said it was critical that Catholic Men Association members avoid the double standards of “preaching peace and promoting war…. We are people of peace and peace should be our underlying life philosophy.”

He underscored the need for peace to be built in families and in neighborhoods, noting that the totality of such little actions could just be what is required to bring the conflict to an end.

“If we have to shun violence, then there must be an alternative means of solving conflicts and that is dialogue,” the archbishop said.

Worried about the continued killings in the two regions, Nkea called for total respect for “the sacredness and dignity of the human person.”

“None of us has the option to decide otherwise because we are not our own property and creator. We belong to God who alone created and sustains life,” the archbishop said.

“There is no price for peace,” Nkea concluded.