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Women Arrested After Calling on Cameroon's Biya to Negotiate Peaceful Transition

Women protesters march in Yaounde, Cameroon, March 9, 2018. (M. Kindzeka/VOA)
Women protesters march in Yaounde, Cameroon, March 9, 2018. (M. Kindzeka/VOA)

Cameroon police have freed 40 of the more than 100 women arrested while trying to ask President Paul Biya, who has been in power for 36 years, to negotiate a peaceful political transition and solve the crisis caused by separatists groups demanding the independence of the English-speaking from the French-speaking regions of the central African country.

National coordinator of the opposition Cameroon Peoples Party (CPP) and former presidential aspirant, Edith Kahbang Walla, said she led the women in the protest march Thursday and Friday in honor of Women's Day.

She said Cameroon women could not celebrate the day against the backdrop of human rights abuses and conflicts that have left of hundreds civilians, separatists fighters, and soldiers dead in the English speaking regions of the central African state. She said Cameroon has been sailing from one crisis to another because of President Paul Biya's poor leadership.

"As mothers of the nation, we feel it is our responsibility to stand up and to take the necessary steps to bring back harmony and peace. How do we facilitate a non-violent political transition for Cameroon. So this is a tremendous moment for the fight for respect of human rights, democracy, political transition in Cameroon."

Edith, who is popularly known in Cameroon as Kah Walla, said some of the protesters were unlawfully arrested, tortured psychologically by Biya's police, and detained in the capital Yaounde for several hours.

"The women were amazing through out. They were fearless, they were determined, they were kept for about six hours ... without any charge and without any apologies nor explanations from the government of Cameroon." said Edith.

During the protest, the women demanded a meeting with Biya to discuss the failure of his government to provide basic services and facilities like water and electricity to a majority of the Cameroon population, despite the country's natural and financial resources.

Hundreds of supporters of the women, including 31-year old Yaounde based teacher Rene Ahanda marched to the police charge office when the women were arrested to ask for their release. Ahanda said he does not understand why the women were arrested.

He said he totally supports Kah Walla for exercising her democratic rights and her freedom to express herself. He said Kah Walla is a big and educated political figure who understands her rights and assumes responsibility for what she does.

Since November 2016, Biya has been battling with the unrest in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions regions that started with teachers and lawyers, frustrated with having to work in French, took to the streets calling for reforms and greater autonomy. It degenerated with separatists' calls for independence.

Last October secessionist groups declared the independence of an area in southwest Cameroon they call Ambazonia, declaring Ayuk Tabe Julius who was in exile in Nigeria as their president. Armed conflicts erupted prompting a crackdown of the military.

Biya has ruled Cameroon since November 1982. His party supporters have ben calling on him to run for president again in elections expected by September this year.