By Boris Esono Nwenfor
Cameroon’s President Paul Biya has discontinued the case of 333 inmates arrested for their alleged roles in relation to the Anglophone crisis in the North West and South West Regions.
The announcement on national media, CRTV on Thursday, October 3, 2019, comes during the Major National Dialogue launched by Biya to end fighting between insurgents, and the military that have killed more than 1,800 people, displaced over 500,000 and put a major dent in the economy.
But Thursday’s move represents one of Biya’s largest concessions yet amid what has become a major threat to his near 40-year rule.
“I have ordered the discontinuance of proceedings pending before Military Tribunals against 333 persons arrested for misdemeanors, in connection with the crisis in the North West and South West Regions,” said Biya on Twitter.
Anglophone separatists, who are trying to form a breakaway state called Ambazonia in the majority French-speaking country’s two minority English-speaking regions, on Thursday, said that the amnesty did not go far enough, Reuters reported.
The separatists have called for the release of some 5000 people imprisoned since 2016, including 10 leaders who were sentenced in August to life in prison on terrorism charges, and the withdrawal of Cameroon’s military from the North-west and South-west regions.
“We will not accept an olive branch from someone whose troops are still in our territory,” said Ivo Tapang, a spokesman for 13 armed groups called the Contender Forces of Ambazonia. “We will intensify our struggle with guns and bullets.”
The insurgency emerged after a government crackdown on peaceful protests late in 2016 in the Northwest and Southwest regions by the lawyers and teachers who complained of being marginalized by the French-speaking majority.
In the following months, protests turned violent. By 2017, newly formed armed groups were attacking army posts in the Anglophone regions. The army responded by burning down villages and shooting civilians, witnesses have told Reuters.
Individuals from across the two English-speaking Regions received the news with joy with the hope that it will help in resolving the crisis. They are hoping that the released persons will include the separatist leaders currently at the Kondengui Maximum prison.
To a resident of Bamenda, North West Region of Cameroon, “We have been suffering a lot in this matter. At least this is the second step with the 333 prisoners who have been released. I see that peace will gradually come to this our two regions.”
Another Bamenda inhabitant stated, “It is very good news to Cameroon and Cameroonians because we have been expecting something to be done to cool down the temper of Cameroonians especially in the Anglophone Regions.”
“It is a good initiative and hopefully it will calm the tension in the Anglophones. Hopefully more of such decisions will be made. I personally think it will go a long way in solving the crisis,” an inhabitant of Buea, South West Region said.