President Paul Biya of Cameroon announced on Thursday that charges against 333 Anglophone activists have been dropped, as his big national dialogue seeks to end a ravaging conflict in the North West and South West regions of the central African nation.
The unending conflict between Mr. Biya’s security forces and armed separatist activists has left hundreds, if not thousands of people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced to neighboring Nigeria.
It has also tarnished the reputation in the international community of the once peaceful Cameroon and mini Africa, and revived opposition against a man who has been in charge of the minerals-rich but impoverished nation for almost four decades.
“I have ordered the discontinuance of proceedings pending before Military Tribunals against 333 persons arrested for misdemeanours, in connection with the crisis in the North-West and South-West Regions,” Mr. Biya said on his official Facebook page.
It was not clear whether the announcement meant the detained activists would be released immediately.
The latest crisis in the South West and North West regions in Cameroon started in late 2016 when lawyers and teachers took to the streets to demand justice and equality in a country where many Anglophones feel they are often being treated as second class citizens.
But their peaceful protests were met with excessive force by President Biya’s security forces, leading to more protests and calls for secession.
Three years on, hundreds, if not thousands, have been killed while hundreds of thousands have been displaced to neighboring Nigeria.
Late last month, Mr. Biya finally called for a big national dialogue to resolve most of Cameroon’s lingering internal crises, including the detention of political prisoners, and the Anglophone conflict.
Anglophone activists warned the talks were useless as long as their comrades remained in prison on false charges.
Mr. Biya’s announcement may persuade some to begin to talk, although the long road to peace and trust still seems to be very far away and perilous.