Switzerland agreed to mediate talks between Cameroonian authorities and separatists in a bid to end escalating violence in the country’s Anglophone regions, the Swiss government said.
A secessionist movement turned violent in 2017 after government cracked down on peaceful protests by teachers and lawyers in the English-speaking northwest and southwest, which complain of being marginalised by the Francophone majority.
Cameroon, an oil, cocoa and timber-producing nation, has experienced near-daily clashes between mostly French-speaking government forces and armed separatist groups.
“Switzerland was tasked by a majority of the parties with facilitating an inclusive negotiation process,” the Swiss foreign affairs department (FDFA) said in a statement following two days of talks with opposition groups.
“The aim of the meeting was to prepare future peace negotiations.”
The FDFA declined to elaborate on which parties it met and any timeline for future talks.
The Cameroonian government was not immediately available for comment.
Ivo Tapang, spokesman for 13 armed groups called the Contender Forces of Ambazonia, told Reuters they would not speak to government unless a cessation of hostilities was observed. “When the time is ripe for talks, we will invite Cameroon and not the other way round,” he said.
President Paul Biya is reported to be on holiday in Switzerland this week.
The United Nations estimates about 1,800 people have been killed and more than 530,000 displaced in the West African country since 2017, with 1.3 million in need in the region.