US says neutral in anglophone Cameroon talks

Tuesday October 1 2019

Politicians, religious leaders and other

Politicians, religious leaders and other delegates pose for a picture after the official opening of Cameroon's Major National Dialogue at the Yaounde Conference Center on September 30 2019. The United States say it's neutral and will help if asked after its retired senior diplomat was alleged to represent separatists in the talks. PHOTO | NDI EUGENE NDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP. 

NDI EUGENE NDI
By NDI EUGENE NDI
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The United States of America says it has offered to play a role in identifying an eventual solution to the crisis in Anglophone regions of Cameroon that has left more than 3,000 dead since 2017.

The US embassy in Yaounde said in a statement it would need to be asked by President Paul Biya's government and Anglophone leaders to take on such a responsibility and asked the parties to engage in dialogue without any preconditions.

A major national dialogue that President Biya hopes will resolve the future of the secession-leaning english-speaking Northwest and Southwest Cameroon started on Monday.

Hopes for a breakthrough were however dashed by the absence of hardline separatist leaders and opposition politicians as moderates called for the talks to be given a chance.

"The US urges all those involved in the conflict in the Northwest and Southwest to abjure further violence and enter into an open-ended dialogue without precondition," the statement said.

The advisory itself was an attempt at damage control after separatist leaders in the diaspora announced on Monday that US diplomat Herman Jay Cohen had agreed to represent them in the talks.

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The statement was issued after the retired senior US state department official denied holding such a brief with the allegations forcing him out of the talks.

"He has stated that he will not be able to participate in these talks," the statement added of what was an embarrassing diplomatic situation.

Presidency out of bounds

It took the efforts of Switzerland and the Center for International Dialogue in July to convince Biya who was on his annual "private visit" at the Geneva Intercontinental Hotel to convene the talks.

President Biya had all along preferred a military solution to the crisis.

He showed signs of relenting in May when he sent Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute, who is chairing the talks, to meet community leaders in the regions and talk peace.

"The president is ready to listen to all matters except secession," Dr Ngute, who hails from the region said. Biya, 86, has ruled Cameroon since 1982.

The separatists are agitating for the formation of an independent Ambazonia state in western Cameroon.

On the eve of the talks the prime minister said the presidency was not up for debate in response to moderates calls for a rotational presidency limited to two terms of fives years each.

Absence of key rebel and political leaders have since dimmed hopes of a breakthrough in the national dialogue.

The talks entered a second day on Tuesday with Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute saying "preoccupations" between the opposing sides were "not unsolvable.

The International Crisis Group, a peace and security monitor, however, said exclusion of separatists and anglophone leaders risked "empowering hardliners."

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