Cameroon’s government and nine imprisoned leaders of separatists fighting for the country’s English-speaking regions have started ceasefire negotiations over their nearly three-year conflict, rebels and a UN source said on Friday.
“Nine of us met with a team from the Republic of Cameroon to initiate a ceasefire following the appeal of the United Nations,” the main separatist leader Julius Ayuk Tabe, who is in jail serving a life sentence, said in a message sent to AFP by his lawyer.
“The details are still being discussed and we will keep you informed when significant progress has been made” in the talks that started on Thursday evening, he added.
The meeting between the leaders and the government is the first since the conflict broke out in the Northwest and Southwest regions, which account for about a fifth of a population that is overwhelmingly French-speaking.
The Cameroonian government neither confirmed nor denied the meeting had been held, but a senior UN official confirmed to AFP that it took place.
More than 3,000 people have been killed in the conflict since separatists declared the independence of Ambazonia, the name given to the two anglophone regions, in October 2017 after decades of grievances at perceived discrimination by the francophone majority.
The nine leaders are self-declared members of the interim government of Ambazonia. All are in jail in the capital Yaoundé on “terrorism” charges.
After months of protests in late 2017, decades of resentment boiled over into an armed campaign for independence that was then met with a brutal crackdown.
There has been almost daily violence in the two regions since, and civilians have suffered from abuses committed by both sides, with more than 700,000 forced to flee their homes.
In early March, the UN called for a ceasefire in the two regions to help combat the coronavirus pandemic.
But the appeal had so far gone unheeded, with violence continuing and military operations even seeming to have intensified.