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Cameroon’s Paul Biya announces release of 330 detained separatists3 minutes read

He made the announcement at a national “dialogue,” launched by Biya, on resolving a crisis that has left thousands dead

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Cameroon announces release of 330 detained separatists
(Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

President Paul Biya on Thursday ordered the release of several hundred detainees linked to the separatist crisis in Cameroon’s anglophone regions as talks on the turmoil ended their fourth day.

“The president has asked for the release of more than 330 people who have been arrested because of the troubles in the Northwest and Southwest” regions, Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute said.

He made the announcement at a national “dialogue,” launched by Biya, on resolving a crisis that has left thousands dead, driven hundreds of thousands from their homes and inflicted escalating economic damage.

The PM said Biya sought “a measure to calm (the situation)… while we continue our work.”

He read a statement first in French and then in English, and was given a standing ovation by many participants.

Separately, the president’s office issued a communique that said there were “333 persons concerned” by the measure.

And late Thursday, delegates adopted a resolution at the dialogue’s plenary session recommending “special status” for the English-speaking areas “aimed at re-enforcing the autonomy of administrative areas”.

Armed separatists in the Northwest and Southwest regions launched a campaign two years ago for independence from Cameroon, where French is the predominant language.

Biya’s government has responded with a crackdown that rights groups have fiercely condemned.

The International Crisis Group has estimated that nearly 3,000 people have been killed in violence committed by both sides and more than half a million people have fled their homes. 

Biya’s “dialogue,” which opened on Monday and is scheduled to end on Friday, brings together political groups, civil society and religious groups, as well as representatives of the armed forces.

But armed rebel groups have snubbed the forum, and analysts have questioned whether the initiative can achieve much while the main separatist leaders are behind bars.

“We welcome the decision by the president to release 330 anglophone detainees. It is a step in the right direction,” Felix Agbor Nkongho, a leading anglophone lawyer and human-rights defender who is taking part in the forum, told reporters.

“But we call for a general amnesty to all those in detention and those in the diaspora under investigation.”

Detained leaders –

In August, secessionist leader Julius Ayuk Tabe — the self-proclaimed president of “Ambazonia” — was sentenced to life in prison along with nine of his supporters.

Biya, in his announcement of the “dialogue” on September 10, made no mention of any release of these figures, although he reiterated an offer to “pardon” any separatists who voluntarily lay down their arms.

English-speakers account for about a fifth of Cameroon’s population of 24 million.

They are mainly concentrated in the Northwest and Southwest regions, which were folded into Cameroon after the colonial era in Africa wound down six decades ago. 

Resentment has festered there for years among English-speakers who complain of discrimination and marginalisation, especially in education, the judiciary and economic opportunities.

Biya, 86, who has been in power for nearly 37 years, has repeatedly refused demands for decentralisation or a return to a federal structure — a move blamed for radicalisation of the anglophone movement.

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Central Africa Politics

Cleared ex-Congolese VP not entitled to compensation – ICC

Bemba’s lawyers had sought a total of nearly 69 million euros including compensation for the time he spent in jail and damages for legal costs.

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Leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo's political party Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC) Jean-Pierre Bemba attends a joint press conference with DRCongo's opposition leaders on September 12, 2018 in Brussels. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

Judges of the International Criminal Court have rejected a multimillion euro compensation claim by a former Congolese vice president, Jean-Pierre Bemba who was cleared of war crimes charges after spending a decade in the court’s custody.

Bemba filed a claim for compensation and damages after he was acquitted on appeal two years ago of war crimes and crimes against humanity alleged to have been committed as a military commander of troops fighting in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003.

He originally was convicted in 2016 and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment.

Bemba’s lawyers sought a total of nearly 69 million euros including compensation for the time he spent in jail and damages for legal costs and losses in the value of assets frozen by the court including a Boeing 727 passenger jet.

The court said in a statement on Monday ruled that Bemba “failed to establish that he had suffered a grave and manifest miscarriage of justice” and therefore rejected his request for compensation for his time behind bars.

The ruling came even though judges acknowledged that “10 years is a significant amount of time to spend in custody, likely to result in personal suffering, which would trigger compensation” in many national legal systems.

The 34-page written ruling called for the court’s governing body, the Assembly of States Parties, to urgently review whether it should impose limits on the length of trials or the amount of time suspects can be jailed before and during their cases.

Judges also dismissed Bemba’s request for damages to cover losses linked to his frozen assets, saying they didn’t have the power to rule on the claim.

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Central Africa Politics

Cameroonian separatists kill mayor in Mamfe

Ashu Prisley Ojong is one of the first senior elected official to be killed in the conflict between Cameroon’s army and English-speaking militias.

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Late Ashu Prisley Ojong, Mayor of Mamfe killed by separatists in Cameroon. /Google

Cameroonian separatists have killed the mayor of a town in the restive Anglophone South West Region, state broadcaster CRTV and a senior military official confirmed on Sunday.

Ashu Prisley Ojong, mayor of Mamfe, around 500 km (300 miles) from the capital in the southwest of the country, was killed when his convoy came under gunfire from Anglophone separatist fighters, broadcaster CRTV said.

A senior military officer in the region, who requested anonymity, told Reuters that two soldiers were wounded in the attack.

Ashu Prisley Ojong is one of the first senior elected official to be killed in the conflict between Cameroon’s army and English-speaking militias.

The insurgency began after the government cracked down violently on peaceful protests by lawyers and teachers in 2016 who complained of marginalization by the French-speaking majority

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Cameroon set for Feb. 9 parliamentary polls despite threat of opposition boycott

More than four dozen parties are taking part in the two elections, which should have taken place in 2017 but were twice postponed.

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A man casts his ballot at a polling station in Yaounde on September 30, 2013 for legislative and local polls set to shore up the strong parliamentary majority of the President's ruling party. AFP PHOTO / REINNIER KAZE (Photo by Reinnier KAZE / AFP)

Cameroon will on Sunday hold its first parliamentary and municipal elections in seven years despite an opposition boycott, terrorist attacks in the north and a bloody separatist struggle in the west.

Maurice Kamto, who mounted the strongest challenge to President Paul Biya’s rule in 2018, has kept his party out of the vote because of the violence.

Once again, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (RDPC) formed by 86-year-old Biya looks well placed to sweep the polls.

Here is a snapshot:

Dominant party —

More than four dozen parties are taking part in the two elections, which should have taken place in 2017 but were twice postponed. 

The behemoth is the RDPC, which has a majority of 148 in the current 180-seat legislature. In many constituencies, its candidate is not even being challenged.

The leadership of the Social Democratic Front (SDF), historically the main party of English-speaking regions and the main opposition party in parliament with 18 lawmakers, finally decided to contest after threatening a boycott.

“In the last elections, the SDF lost ground. It needs to regain the lost seats,” said Stephane Akoa, a researcher at the Paul Ango Ela Foundation for geopolitics in Yaounde.

A third contestant to watch is the Cameroon Party for National Reconciliation (PCRN) headed by journalist Cabral Libii, 39, which hopes to knock the SDF into third place and become the main parliamentary opposition to Biya’s forces.

Kamto, winner of second place in the 2018 presidential poll, pulled his Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC) out of the elections.

— Conflict —

Terrorist attacks in a region called the Far North as well as a separatist uprising in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions have battered Cameroon’s image as a relatively stable zone in troubled central Africa.

On top of the 3,000 people estimated killed in the west according to the International Crisis Group (ICG), hundreds of thousands have fled their homes.

During the presidential poll of 2018, turnout in the Northwest and Southwest regions barely reached 10 percent.

The Far North is wracked by terrorist attacks by Boko Haram from neighbouring Nigeria and a splinter faction, the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP).

— Logistical problems —

Ensuring security in these troubled regions and enabling a vote among a total of almost one million displaced people will be very difficult, non-governmental organisations say.

Jailed for nine months after his supporters demonstrated against the official outcome of the presidential poll, Kamto says a fair election is impossible given the problems.

“To hold elections in Cameroon today… is to send the message that the population (of these regions) are not Cameroonians and thus bring about a de facto partition of the country,” he said.

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