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Cameroon government says it never authorized Canada peace talks

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly speaks to the media at the Hamilton Convention Centre, in Hamilton, Ont., ahead of the Liberal Cabinet retreat, on Monday, January 23, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nick Iwanyshyn

OTTAWA — Cameroon's state-affiliated newspaper says the country's government never authorized Canada to lead peace talks aimed at ending an escalating conflict in the west-central African country. 

Ottawa announced last Friday that it has been hosting talks with the government of Cameroon and various factions to come up with a peace process for a political resolution to the crisis.

Yet the country’s state-affiliated newspaper, the Cameroon Tribune, said the government had mandated "no external mediator" for negotiations to end the conflict.

The newspaper cited a press release signed by the country’s Communication Minister René Sadi, which said Cameroon “has not entrusted any foreign country or external entity with any role of mediator or facilitator to settle the crisis.”

The Canadian Press has not independently verified the letter and Cameroon's Communications Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The office of Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said it already held three meetings in Canada that included representatives from the government of Cameroon.

"We are in touch with the parties and our previous statement stands," wrote spokesman Adrien Blanchard.

"Canada’s sole interest in this matter is a peaceful resolution and a safer future for all civilians affected by the conflict."

Years of fighting and strife have displaced nearly 800,000 people in the country, in a conflict over how the largely English-speaking western region of the country should be governed.

The conflict has killed more than 6,000 people since 2017, and left 600,000 children without full access to an education.

According to the United Nations, there has been continued fighting between state security forces and armed groups that has led to the killing and displacement of civilians, including attacks on schools and children.

Joly had said last week that Ottawa had accepted a mandate from the Cameroonian government and some separatist groups, to help them reach a comprehensive political resolution to the conflict.

Switzerland had attempted a similar process in 2019.

Sadi’s statement did not directly mention Canada.

"It is up to the Cameroonian people, to the institution and leaders that they have freely chosen, to seek appropriate ways and means to address problems facing our country," the statement reads.

Cameroon has been ruled by President Paul Biya for 40 years, and Human Rights Watch says his government has limited freedom of expression and association for opposition parties.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 23, 2023.

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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