Cameroon has denied an announcement that Canada will mediate the African country's separatist conflict, saying such a role was never mandated. Canada’s foreign ministry last week announced that Cameroon and some separatist factions had agreed to a peace process, with Ottawa assigned to help.
Cameroonian government spokesman René Emmanuel Sadi said Yaoundé has never entrusted any country with the role of facilitator or mediator with separatists in its western regions.
In a statement Monday, Sadi said it was up to Cameroon’s people, institutions, and leaders to seek appropriate ways of solving problems facing their state.
It was a response to Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly on Friday announcing that Cameroon and some separatist factions had agreed to a peace process.
Her statement said Ottawa had accepted a mandate to act as facilitator and called the agreement a critical first step toward peace.
The Cameroonian government’s denial of Canada’s mediation deflated hopes for talks to end seven years of fighting that has left thousands of people dead, and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Esther Njomo Omam is the executive director of the aid group Reach Out Cameroon.
"People have been suffering, people have been in pain, and they believed that this Canada-led process for dialogue was a glimmer of hope that could lead to a lasting solution for peace," she said. "The general opinion was that of relief and a sign of hope. When the communique from the minister of communication came out, we sampled opinion, and it was that of frustration."
Canada responded to Cameroon’s denial Monday saying it was in touch with both sides in the conflict and that Ottawa’s statement still stands.
Canada had said the parties to the agreement last week included at least six separatist groups: the Ambazonia Governing Council, the Ambazonia Defense Forces, the African People’s Liberation Movement, the Southern Cameroon’s Defense Force, the Ambazonia Interim Government, and the Ambazonia Coalition.
A spokesman for the Ambazonia Defense Forces, Capo Daniel, says Yaoundé’s backing out of the agreement shows it does not want peace.
He says separatist groups will meet in the coming days to decide how to proceed.
"The Ambazonia Governing Council and all the other Ambazonia movements who formed the leading block that represents Ambazonia in the Ambazonia, Cameroon, Canada negotiation process have taken note of this document from Sadi. That is our only response. We have taken note," he said.
Some rebel groups like the Ambazonia Interim Government and the self-declared Republic of Ambazonia have rejected Canada-led talks.
The groups have on social media said only armed conflict would free the people of Ambazonia, an English-speaking state they are fighting to carve out from French-speaking majority Cameroon.
Cameroon’s government says it is already implementing efforts for peace agreed to during a 2019 national dialogue on the separatist conflict.
Several rebel groups, including those with leaders based in Europe and the United States, did not take part in that dialogue for fear of arrest.
They asked Yaoundé to organize talks outside Cameroon with foreign mediators.
Switzerland has also made attempts to mediate the conflict, but with little progress.
Canada says the conflict has killed more than 6,000 people since 2017, displaced 800,000, and deprived 600,000 children of access to education.