The separatist leader of Cameroon’s English-speaking community on Thursday dismissed President Paul Biya’s call for national dialogue to end the country’s anglophone crisis as a “non-starter”.
Biya on Tuesday announced that he intends to open a major “national dialogue” later this month in a bid to solve the conflict between security forces and armed separatists from the anglophone minority in the west.
“The speech was a non-event and a non-starter,” separatist leader Julius Sisiku Ayuk Tabe said in a message relayed by his lawyers.
In August Ayuk Tabe was sentenced to life in prison along with nine of his supporters — a move that made the prospect of peace seem even more remote.
Ayuk Tabe is the first self-proclaimed president of “Ambazonia”, a breakaway state declared in October 2017 in two English-speaking regions of the central African country.
Since then the francophone-majority country has been mired in the unrest which has left more than 2,000 people dead as English-speaking separatists demand independence in the Northwest and Southwest regions.
More than 500,000 people have been forced from their homes as a result, according to the Human Rights Watch group.
Ayuk Tabe described Biya’s dialogue initiative as “an awkward and grudging attempt timed to avoid UN sanctions, considering that the UN will be deliberating on the anglophone crisis this September and Mr Biya and his regime has been amply put on notice.”
He added that “President Biya unilaterally declared the ongoing war in the Northwest and Southwest regions. He must unilaterally declare an end to the war that he declared.”
The UN has said that its Secretary General Antonio Guterres “welcomes the announcement” by Biya and “reiterates the readiness of the United Nations to support the dialogue process.”
But many commentators said that if Biya’s overture is genuine, it will have little chance of headway as long as separatist leaders remain behind bars or in exile.