Violence escalating in Cameroon

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Prospects for talks between authorities and separatist movements to end escalating violence in Cameroon’s English-speaking region are slim, a senior human rights official said, dismissing assertions by both sides to be open to dialogue.

A separatist insurgency broke out in 2017 following a government crackdown on peaceful protests in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest, which complain of being marginalised by the French-speaking majority.

Prime Minister Joseph Ngute said government would be willing to talk to the rebels, but would not consider demands for secession – a position hard-line separatists said they will not accept.

Eleven movements representing Anglophone Cameroon, including the main armed factions, last month said they were willing to enter mediated discussions with the state.

Almost daily violence from both sides has intensified, forcing thousands of civilians to seek refuge in Cameroon’s French-speaking regions and neighbouring countries.

“There is no desire for dialogue. The abuses are from both sides and civilians are finding themselves in the middle,” Ilaria Allegrozzi, Senior Central Africa Researcher at Human Rights Watch, told reporters in Paris.

“The position of government is an almost complete denial and there is total impunity for violence.”

The oil, cocoa and timber-producing nation was among western Africa’s most settled until a few years ago.

The United Nations estimates since 2017 about 1,800 people have been killed and more than 530,000 displaced with 1.3 million in need. Authorities promised to act over accusations of rights violations by security personnel.

Allegrozzi, refused entry to the country in May because of her research, said it was clear the rebels were too divided to form a platform to negotiate, an element government was using to its advantage.

She estimated the total number of separatist fighters at about 3,000 with evidence they were acquiring more sophisticated weaponry.

The crisis has slipped beneath the international radar given President Paul Biya’s close co-operation with Western states in the fight against Islamist militant group Boko Haram in West and central Africa.

The United States is become increasingly critical of government and the separatist crisis was discussed for the first time at the UN Security Council last month.

Allegrozzi said the Anglophone population was increasingly in tune with independence. “There is a growing support towards the separatists and secession,” she said.