Cameroon on Monday turned down a mediation offer from Canada which had volunteered to help bring up dialogue between Yaoundé and insurgents in the English-speaking regions in a bid to end a six-year conflict that has killed more than 6,000.
On Friday, Canada had announced that it had “accepted the mandate to facilitate” the peace process in Cameroon – including negotiations and confidence-building measures between the government and some separatist factions to resolve the bloody armed conflict that has also uprooted nearly 800,000 from their homes.
But in a release on Monday, Mr Rene Emmanuel Sadi, the central African country’s government spokesperson and Minister of Communication, said the Cameroon “has not entrusted any foreign country or external entity with any role of mediator or facilitator to settle the crisis”.
Sadi said the conflict which has deprived 600,000 children of full access to education is an internal problem and it is “up to the Cameroonian people, the institutions and leaders that they have freely chosen” to seek appropriate ways of addressing their internal problems.
Announcing the peace process on Friday, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said parties in the conflict had agreed during pre-talks to enter a process to reach a comprehensive, peaceful and political resolution of the conflict.
“The parties to this agreement are the Republic of Cameroon, the Ambazonia Governing Council and the Ambazonia Defence Force, the African People’s Liberation Movement and the Southern Cameroons Defence Force, the interim government, and the Ambazonia Coalition Team. The parties further express the hope that other groups will join the process,” Joly said in a statement that was immediately welcomed by many including Pope Francis.
During an address on Sunday, the head of the Roman Catholic Church encouraged the signatories to the Canada-facilitated peace process to “persevere on the path of dialogue and mutual understanding because the future can be planned only in encounter”.
On Monday, the US Embassy in Yaounde said it welcomed the announcement by the Canadian government to lead the mediation to resolve the crisis as well as indications of support from multiple stakeholders.
“We commend President Biya, the Cameroonian government, and all parties to the discussions for their courage in taking this important positive step towards a sustainable peace,” the diplomatic institution said in a publication on its official social media page.
Earlier in a joint statement on Friday, separatist factions mentioned by the Canadian government admitted taking part in pre-talks and committed to the peace process, calling on other groups to join.
Capo Daniel, the spokesperson of the Ambazonia Governing Council – one of the parties to the Canadian-mediated peace talks — told The East African on Tuesday morning that they have “taken note of the document in circulation in the media space” from the Cameroon government spokesperson but declined to comment further.
The English-speaking North West and South West region of the majority French speaking Cameroon have remained volatile since a protest by lawyers and teachers over perceived and real marginalisation morphed into an armed conflict following a military crackdown on protesters. Militia groups have since sprouted and increased demands for the secession of the minority English speakers and the creation of an independent English-speaking country they want called Ambazonia.
In an effort to quell tensions, the government called for peace talks dubbed a Major National Dialogue at the end of which the regions were granted a special status – giving them some autonomy but it failed to resolve the conflict.