Cameroon to free 289 anglophone separatists: minister

Yaoundé (AFP) –


Nearly 300 people who were arrested in connection with Cameroon's anglophone crisis will be released on Friday, a day after being pardoned by President Paul Biya, the defence minister said.

"Those benefitting from the offer of clemency granted by the head of state will be immediately released after hearings before the relevant military tribunal which will take place on Friday, December 14," said a statement by Defence Minister Joseph Beti Assomo.

A list of all those to be freed, who are being held in six prisons across this West African country, would be published following Friday's hearings, he said.

On Thursday, Biya announced he was halting the prosecution of 289 separatists from the western English-speaking regions, a statement from his office said.

Biya "has decided... to halt the cases pending in military courts against a certain number of people arrested for offences committed during the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest," it said.

Beti Assomo said the clemency would be granted where the military authorities had taken into account "the relative gravity of the charges".

It would not be extended "to criminals, murderers or other dangerous terrorists" nor to "those involved in commanding or planning the damaging security crisis which is currently happening in the Northwest and Southwest regions," he said.

Since the secessionists took up arms late last year, at least 500 civilians and more than 200 members of the security forces have been killed in clashes, attacks and a government crackdown, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG).

Given the conditions, it appeared unlikely that separatist leader Julius Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, who went on trial on December 6 on charges of "terrorism" and "secession", would be among those released.

Ayuk Tabe, president of the self-declared "Republic of Ambazonia", was arrested in Nigeria and extradited to Cameroon in January along with 46 others.

The next hearing in his trial is scheduled for January 10.