Cameroon denies Canadian government’s announcement of peace talks

The Cameroonian government has rejected Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly’s announcement, which was released by her office on Friday, apparently with the approval of all parties to the conflict.Andreea Alexandru/Associated Press

Three days after Canada announced it would facilitate a long-sought peace process for the armed conflict in Cameroon, the government of Cameroon has dealt a severe blow to the process by denying the substance of the Canadian announcement.

The strange turnaround came on Monday evening after three days of silence from the Cameroonian government. The government rejected Foreign Minister Melanie Joly’s announcement, which was made public by her office on Friday, apparently with the approval of all parties to the conflict.

“The government of the Republic of Cameroon informs the national and international community that it has not entrusted any foreign country or external entity with the role of mediator or facilitator to resolve the crisis in the North West and South West,” said the statement released by Communications. Minister René Emmanuel Sadi.

“It is above all up to the Cameroonian people, the institutions and the leaders they have freely chosen, to seek appropriate ways and means to solve the problems facing our country,” the statement said.

In her announcement of the Canadian role on Friday, Ms. Joly said the Cameroonian government was among the parties that had agreed to a formal peace process with Canadian mediation. “Canada has accepted the mandate to facilitate this process,” she said in the announcement.

Over the past three days, she has also repeatedly tweeted a positive reaction to the Canadian announcement.

It was unclear why the Cameroonian government pulled out of the deal. On Monday evening, Ms Joly’s press officer, Adrien Blanchard, said: “We are in contact with the parties and our previous statement still stands.” Cameroonian government officials had attended all previous meetings in Canada leading up to the deal, he said.

Escalating conflict between Cameroonian security forces and separatist groups in the predominantly English-speaking North West and South West regions of Cameroon has killed more than 6,000 people and forced more than a million people to flee their home since the start of the conflict in 2016. About 600,000 children have lost all or part of their access to school.

English-speaking regions have felt marginalized by the French-speaking majority for decades, with grievances dating back to the early 1960s when British and French-controlled regions were merged into one country. Secessionist forces attempted to form a new state, called Ambazonia, but it failed to gain international recognition.

Friday’s Canadian announcement, which followed a series of secret meetings with Cameroonian delegations in three locations in Quebec and Ontario over the past four months, had sparked widespread optimism among many Cameroonians, including Ambazonian leaders.

It has also been praised by senior British and American diplomats, and even by Pope Francis, who welcomed the deal during a speech on Sunday.

Just hours before the Cameroonian government denied the deal, the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon said it congratulated the government and all parties to the talks “for their courage in taking this important positive step towards a lasting peace”. The British High Commissioner to Cameroon, Christian Dennys-McClure, said the announcement of peace talks was “a very welcome development”.

But analysts have always feared that the Cameroonian government is not fully engaged in peace talks and prefers to continue pursuing a violent crackdown on separatist forces.

Monday’s government denial “should not be taken as a surprise” but remains “a major stumbling block towards peace in Cameroon”, according to Chris Roberts, a University of Calgary scholar and Africa specialist who worked on Cameroonian issues.

“I guess Canadian officials and other members of the international community were prepared for this denial, given the regime’s track record,” he told the Globe. “Now the real diplomacy begins.”

Last September, the Cameroonian government withdrew from a Swiss-mediated peace process that began in 2019.

The government is led by longtime dictator Paul Biya, 89, the world’s longest-serving head of state, who has dominated the country for the past 41 years.

Cameroonian human rights lawyer Agbor Nkongho, who has documented the atrocities committed in the conflict, has urged all parties to remain calm following the overthrow of the government. “The forces of evil can never triumph,” he said on Twitter on Monday. ” Keep hoping. »

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