Next week, Cameroon’s government will host what it calls a national dialogue on the separatist crisis in its Northwest and Southwest regions. However, U.S.- and Europe-based separatist leaders invited to the talks say they will not take part in any dialogue unless it is held outside Cameroon with non-Cameroonians as mediators. The government has stated it will not accept a foreign mediator.
The week-long dialogue on the separatist crisis is due to begin Monday in Yaounde. The government says it has invited more than 1,000 people, including lawmakers, clergy, teachers, and civil society activists.
However, none of the U.S.- and Europe-based separatist leaders contacted by VOA said they will attend the talks.
Among those turning down the invitation is Eric Tataw, who lives in the United States.
He says he will not attend because he and fellow separatists based in the diaspora are wanted in Cameroon on charges of secession and terrorism.
Those are the same charges for which separatist leaders Ayuk Tabe Julius and 10 collaborators were arrested and sentenced to life in prison by a Yaounde military tribunal.
Tataw says Cameroon should free Julius and the other leaders as a sign they are truly ready for dialogue.
“I have told them categorically clear that let them release all detainees, and then start discussing with them and then from there we will know if the president of Cameroon is serious to have dialogue or not,” said Tataw.
Fighting in Northwest and Southwest Cameroon has claimed more than 2,000 lives since hostilities broke out two years ago. English-speaking armed groups in those regions want to break away from the rest of Cameroon and its French-speaking majority.
Some separatists have said on social media they want the dialogue to take place either in Switzerland or Ivory Coast, under the supervision of world powers like the U.S., Germany and Britain, and in the presence of the United Nations.
George Ewane, spokesperson of the national dialogue, says Cameroon’s President Paul Biya has ruled out the possibility of inviting a foreign mediator. Some nations that have offered to mediate, he says, have not stopped Cameroonians in the diaspora from financially sponsoring violence back home.
“Some make the propositions in good faith but we also know that others do not do that exactly in good faith,” he said. “Now let me ask a question. Are Cameroonians, are Cameroonians unable to solve their own problems to the extent of seeking a foreign mediation? The answer is an emphatic no. International mediation is not necessary.”
Ewane did not name the countries he was referring to, but last July, the Swiss ambassador to Cameroon, Pietro Lazzeri, announced his country was helping the Cameroon’s government negotiate with the rebels.