Men hand out flags to people praying for peace in Cameroon's restive English-speaking regions, at Saint Joseph's Anglophone Parish in Cameroon's capital, Yaounde, Sept. 6, 2019. (M.Kindzeka/VOA)
FILE - Men hand out flags to people praying for peace in Cameroon's restive English-speaking regions, at Saint Joseph's Anglophone Parish in Cameroon's capital, Yaounde, Sept. 6, 2019. (M.Kindzeka/VOA)

YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - Consultations have begun in Cameroon ahead of a national dialogue ordered by president Paul Biya. Civil society groups and opposition political parties are calling for the unconditional release of Anglophone separatist leaders and other political prisoners before discussions begin.

FILE - Cameroon Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute visits Bamenda, Cameroon, May 10, 2019.

Cameroon Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute began consultations with political party leaders, civil society activists, opinion leaders, traditional rulers, lawmakers and clergy on September 11, one day after President Paul Biya called for a national dialogue to solve the separatist crisis rocking his country.

Prince Ekosso, president of the United Socialist Democratic Party, says among the recommendations they are strongly making for the announced dialogue to be successful are the unconditional release of all people he says are illegally held in prisons and detention centers and an end to the separatist war in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon.

"Mr. Biya should call for a cease-fire. He was the one who declared war against the separatists. Release all those who are political prisoners in Cameroon including Maurice Kamto and Tabe Ayuk Sisseku [Julius Ayuk Tabe], and he should create a situation where all Cameroonians can express their will," said Ekosso.

Biya declared war on the Anglophone separatists in November 2017 and said he would crush them if they did not surrender.

In August, the Yaounde military tribunal gave life sentences to Julius Ayuk Tabe, the leader of the separatist movement, and nine others it said had been found guilty of secession, terrorism and hostility against the state.

FILE - Maurice Kamto, then-presidential candidate of Renaissance Movement (MRC), holds a news conference at his headquarter in Yaounde, Cameroon, Oct. 8, 2018.

Opposition leader Maurice Kamto, who came in second in the October presidential election, but claims to have won, is on trial with dozens of others in a military tribunal on insurrection charges.

Biya has insisted that he will maintain Cameroon as one nation and indivisible. Justin Roger Ndah, assistant secretary-general of the opposition MRC party says they are urging the government to accept discussions on the form of the state.

He says Paul Biya should not think that speaking about the form of the state during the expected national dialogue is a taboo subject and an indication of his weakness. He says it is fundamental for all issues disturbing Cameroon to be brought to the discussion table and required constitutional amendments be made when the time comes.

Siddi Haman, a senior official of Biya's CPDM party says people should see in the expected dialogue the president's true will to bring peace to the country.

He says all Cameroonians should have confidence in Biya, who, as the father of the nation, has called for the dialogue. He says after the dialogue the president can use his constitutional power to grant the desires of the people, as the most important thing he is asking for before he leaves power is to maintain Cameroon as a peaceful, one and indivisible state with every one living in harmony.

The conflict in Cameroon's English-speaking regions has killed more than 2,000 people, internally displaced more than 500,000 and caused more than 50,000 Cameroonians to seek refuge in Nigeria, according to the United Nations.