Cameroon's Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute visited the troubled western regions this week, calling for armed separatists to lay down their weapons or be killed. Civilians and rights groups say peace will only return if the government declares a cease-fire.
Ngute was met with shooting in Matazen, an English-speaking village bordering the French-speaking West region of Cameroon. He was rushed to his car.
Military troops said hidden separatist fighters in the surrounding bush wanted to scare civilians who were welcoming Ngute on his way to Bamenda, capital of the English-speaking North West region. The military said it did not fire back and the shooters escaped.
Ngute told hundreds of civilians in Bamenda that he was the bearer of a special message. He spoke in Pidgin, a popular language in Cameroon's English-speaking western regions.
Ngute said Cameroonian president Paul Biya sent him to ask for an end to fighting, killing and the destruction of property. He said most Cameroonians want an end to the separatist crisis.
Fighters in the English-speaking regions who refuse to drop their weapons will be killed, Ngute said.
Scores of senior state functionaries, government ministers, lawmakers, traditional rulers and clergy accompanied Biya's envoy to Bamenda.
Asheri Kilo, secretary of state in the Ministry of Basic Education, said Ngute asked leaders to give the separatists a message.
"He made us know that peace cannot come if we do not start it, if we do not promote it," said Kilo, who is from Bui, an administrative unit near Bamenda called Division. "And he also intimated that we should continue to tell the truth to our people. We should continue to tell them that whatever they are looking for in the name of a Southern Cameroon [breakaway state] will never happen."
Civilians carried billboards asking for an immediate cease-fire.
Daniel Fondoh, a French-speaking activist with the rights group Dynamique Citoyenne, said the Cameroonian government will likely not stop the fighting if it does not withdraw its military and begin negotiations with fighters for a return to peace. If the government of Cameroon continues to send its troops to fight the separatists, the central African state will continue to lose the lives of its citizens, Fondoh added.
Cameroon says it has created a special status for the English-speaking regions as a solution to the demands made by English speakers in the majority French-speaking nation. The special status means assemblies of chiefs, regional assemblies and regional councils for the two English-speaking regions, with each of them having elected presidents and three commissioners responsible for economic, health, social, educational, sports and cultural development affairs.
The special status for the English-speaking regions was proposed duringa grand national dialogue called by Biya from September 30 through October 4, 2019, to propose solutions to the crisis in the country's English-speaking regions. Separatists reject the special status.
The United Nations says that the separatist war has forced more than 500,000 people to flee their homes since the conflict erupted in late 2017. More than 3,000 people have been killed.