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Friday, 5 October, 2001, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Cameroon's English speaking separatists
Cameroon's secessionist's want autonomy
Cameroon's secessionist's want autonomy
By Francis Ngwa Niba in Cameroon

It seems to have taken the deaths of three protesters and the arrest of dozens more, including a separatist leader, to have highlighted the concerns of the English-speaking minority in Cameroon.

Earlier this week, riot police violently broke up banned marches, trailed as non-violent gatherings by English-speaking separatists, in two towns in western Cameroon.

The authorities said they were provoked, but it is clear that they were well prepared, having dispatched elite troops from the capital, Yaounde, and neighbouring provinces into the area.

There are now fears that the killings may radicalise the separatists still further in their claims for autonomy for Cameroon's two western provinces.

Talks

Cameroon's main opposition party, which has strong support among Cameroon's five million English speakers, has criticised the police action and urged President Paul Biya's government to open talks with local leaders.


"The Biya government should discuss with Anglophones," said Social Democratic Front leader John Fru Ndi.

"These Anglophones have been marginalised and there is somebody there just sending forces of repression."

But Mr Biya's track record suggests he has no plans to discuss this issue.

His government in the mainly French-speaking capital, Yaounde, says Anglophone Cameroon is an integral part of the republic and is treated fairly.

Complaints

Leaders of the English-speaking minority have increasingly complained that they are treated as second-class citizens.

Protesters hoist the federal flag
Protesters hoist the federal flag

They say that they are exempted from top government jobs and that official documents which should be published in both English and French are now only done in the latter.

It is now 40 years since English-speaking Southern Cameroons gained independence from Britain and merged in an equal bilingual federation with neighbouring French-speaking Republic of Cameroon.

The two states agreed to be equal partners in the union with separate parliaments and prime ministers.

In 1972, President Ahmadou Ahidjo organised a referendum to unite the two states thereby creating the United Republic of Cameroon.

And then 14 years later in 1984, under President Biya, the 'United' was removed from the name Cameroon and the country reverted to the name of Francophone Cameroon: "La Republic du Cameroon".

Separatist momentum

Tensions came to a head on 30 December 1999, when some unarmed Anglophones stormed a radio station in Buea, South West Cameroon, seized the station and proclaimed the independence of English-speaking Cameroon.

Cameroon President Paul Biya
President Biya will not talk to Anglophone activists

They were promptly arrested and detained for 14 months.

The separatist campaign has been gathering momentum and now has a president in exile, a national anthem, a flag and an appointed government.

On 1 October this year, the day English-speaking Cameroon gained independence, the Southern Cameroon National Council had planned to hold a constituent assembly of their self-styled republic in Bamenda in north-western province .

The deploment of troops in the English speaking areas and heavy handed crackdown on the peaceful protesters prevented this assembly.

The government will be hoping their hardline approach will not exacerbate the situation further.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Augustin Ndanga of Southern Cameroons Council
"The march was peaceful. People carried placards against annexation and state terrorism"
Prof Ngole Ngole, Minister in president's office
"Our police have been undergoing human rights seminars"
See also:

02 Oct 01 | Africa
Cameroon separatists killed
23 Jul 01 | Africa
Timeline: Cameroon
23 Oct 00 | Africa
Huge oil project launched
07 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Cameroon
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