YAOUNDE - A United States Congressional delegation visiting Cameroon has called for unconditional talks between the government and rebels on the country’s separatist conflict. The two-year struggle, in which Cameroon's English-speaking western regions have fought to separate from the French-speaking government, has killed close to 2,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands. But the government says it will not engage in any talks with the rebels that includes the issue of separation from Cameroon.
California Congresswoman Karen Bass told journalists in Cameroon late Monday that the government and rebels should respect human rights, end all violence, and begin talks on the separatist conflict.
"We especially want to see a peaceful dialogue, a peaceful resolution without conditions. We want to see all sides come to the table. We recently passed a resolution in Congress saying this and we wanted to come and see first-hand what is happening in the country," she said.
Bass made the comments after meeting with refugees and displaced people from the conflict in Cameroon’s English-speaking western regions as well as government ministers.
She is leading a seven-member Congressional delegation to Cameroon with a focus on health and human rights issues.
On Tuesday, the U.S. delegation is scheduled to meet with Cameroonian activists and rights groups.
The United States, United Nations, and rights groups have been calling for sincere dialogue between authorities and the rebels to try to resolve the deadly conflict.
Government spokesperson Rene Emmanuel Sadi says they are not against talks in principle. But, he stresses that President Paul Biya has made it clear that splitting the country is off the table.
"At a time when Cameroon is resolutely moving towards its emergence, everything must and will be done to preserve peace and stability. Cameroon is and remains a rule of law," he said.
International observers and rights groups say Cameroon’s separatist conflict is getting worse by the day.
The United Nations says at least 1,800 people have been killed and more than half a million displaced in the two years since fighting began.
Cameroon’s aid workers in June said they feared travel to the region after suspected rebels attacked and burned several truckloads of aid.
Congresswoman Bass says humanitarian needs are increasing in both the English-speaking western regions and in Cameroon’s north, due to the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.
"We are concerned about humanitarian aid in the far north as well as in the northwest and southwest, making sure that there is access to aid, that the people that provide humanitarian assistance are able to provide that freely and fully to the population," she said.
The U.S. Congress in a May resolution condemned abuses by Cameroon’s security forces and armed groups.
The abuses included extrajudicial killings and detentions, the use of force against civilians and protestors, and violations of the freedoms of press, expression, and assembly.
The Congressional resolution called on Cameroon’s military and rebels to cease the abuse, use of child soldiers, torture and kidnapping, and attacks on schools and teachers.