Swiss government to mediate Cameroon peace talks

YAOUNDE (Reuters) - Switzerland has agreed to mediate talks between Cameroonian authorities and separatists in a bid to end escalating violence in the country’s Anglophone regions, the Swiss government said on Thursday.

A secessionist movement turned violent in 2017 after the government cracked down on peaceful protests by teachers and lawyers in the English-speaking northwest and southwest, which complain of being marginalized by the Francophone majority.

Cameroon, an oil, cocoa and timber-producing nation, has since experienced near-daily clashes between mostly French-speaking government forces and armed separatist groups.

“Switzerland was tasked by a majority of the parties with facilitating an inclusive negotiation process,” the Swiss foreign affairs department (FDFA) said in a statement following two days of talks with a number of opposition groups.

“The aim of the meeting was to prepare the future peace negotiations.”

The FDFA declined to elaborate on which parties it had met and on the timeline for future talks.

The Cameroonian government was not immediately available for comment.

Ivo Tapang, spokesman for 13 armed groups called the Contender Forces of Ambazonia, told Reuters they would not speak to the government unless a cessation of hostilities was observed. “When the time is ripe for talks, we will invite Cameroon and not the other way round,” he said.

President Paul Biya is reported to be on holiday in Switzerland this week.

The United Nations estimates that about 1,800 people have been killed and more than 530,000 displaced within the West African country since 2017, with 1.3 million in need in the region.

Reporting by Josiane Kouagheu; Additional reporting by Edward McAllister in Dakar; Writing by Sofia Christensen; editing by John Stonestreet