Cameroon’s President Paul Biya in a rare public address on Tuesday announced the organization of a national dialogue to discuss problems that are tearing the central African state apart, including separatist violence.
The 86-year-old on Tuesday night called on all separatists in the English-speaking regions to surrender and be forgiven, or face military action. Biya also called on foreign nations to help him stop Cameroonians in the diaspora from sponsoring violence back at home.
According to him, the talks, to be led by the Prime Minister by the end of this month, would bring together a wide range of people to seek ways to end violence that has plagued the Anglophone region for months.
The region is burdened with violence and instability by armed separatists who wish to create a breakaway state called Ambazonia.
Since 2016, fighting has killed about 1,800 people and displaced over 500,000, according to United Nations estimates.
“The dialogue will rally all the sons and daughters of our beloved and beautiful country, Cameroon, to reflect on values that are dear to us, namely: peace, security, national unity and progress,” said Biya in his televised speech.
Cameroonians had expected Biya to grant amnesty to arrested separatist leader Julius Ayuk Tabe, who with nine of his collaborators, were given life prison sentences two weeks ago, provoking attacks on public edifices in the English-speaking regions and a mass exodus of people.
Separatist fighters had vowed to make the regions ungovernable and stop schools from reopening until their leaders were unconditionally released.
Human Rights Watch said in June that the prospects for talks between the government and separatist leaders were very thin.