YAOUNDE - Barely 24 hours after being released from detention centers, some of the people accused of fighting for the creation of an English-speaking state in Cameroon have called for the movement's leaders to be released if President Paul Biya wants peace in the country.
The detainees' release last week came after Biya ordered charges against them dropped.
Evelyn Ako, a mother of four, says she spent the night with her husband for the first time in 22 months. She says he was arrested in the English-speaking Southwest town of Mamfe and taken to Yaounde.
"With him besides me, we can work harder," she said. "He used to give me money to support my children but this year, they are in the house. They have not gone to school because of [his absence]. So this thing has disturbed us a lot. It has disturbed even our family because any money that we gather, we used it to buy foodstuff to go and give him. We use it to buy medicines, dresses."
Evelyn Ako relocated to Yaounde to help her husband and says they will only return to Mamfe when the crisis is over.
Joseph Cho, the spokesperson for the 120 people released from detention camps, said they are pleading with Biya to free their leaders.
"We have leaders. If these people are released, things will be better," Cho said. "Like Sissiku … who [was] arrested because of this. We expected this decision long ago. Things would not have been the way it is now."
Sissiku is the name given to the leader of the Ambazonia separatist movement, Julius Ayuk Tabe. He was arrested in Abuja, Nigeria, with 46 of his collaborators and extradited last January to Cameroon. They face a possible death penalty on charges of secession, terrorism and attempting to destabilize Cameroon.
'Frank dialogue' needed
University of Yaounde political analyst Willibroad Ze Ngwa says if Biya frees the Anglophone leaders, peace likely will return to Cameroon.
"The most important should be releasing the leaders and engaging in frank dialogue with these people. I pray the head of state [president] should move us into 2019 with some sort of general amnesty so that Cameroonians should be able to live in total concord and harmony," Ngwa said.
Governor of the English-speaking Northwest region, Deben Tchoffo, says the government is open for dialogue and the separatists should disarm.
"Use all means at your level to convince your other mates to lay down their guns and to come back to normal civil life," Tchoffo said. "They will be well taken care of, they will be well treated, trained and even supported to ease their coming back to civil life."
The separatist insurgency gained pace in 2017 following a government crackdown on peaceful protests by Anglophones, who complain of being marginalized by the French-speaking majority.
Biya was re-elected to a seventh term in October, and since then there has been pressure from the international community to start sincere dialogue with the separatists.
Last Thursday, U.S. Deputy Ambassador Jonathan Cohen told the U.N. Security Council that conditions in Cameroon's English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions had highly deteriorated, and the United States wants an immediate end to violence and a speedy start to talks between the government and separatists.