Release of 289 Cameroon anglophone separatists delayed

The release of nearly 300 people arrested in connection with Cameroon's anglophone crisis has been delayed by red tape, state radio said on Friday, a day after they were pardoned by President Paul Biya.

Courts in six prisons across the West African country ordered the separatists be freed on Friday, but administrative difficulties have slowed the process, according to state radio.

Defence Minister Joseph Beti Assomo earlier said that the list of all those to be freed would be published after court hearings.

"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," he said in a statement.

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 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".

Cameroon's 22 million people are mainly French-speakers, but around a fifth are English-speaking, concentrated in the northwest and southwest regions of the West African country.

Resentment at perceived discrimination against anglophones in education, the judiciary and the economy fanned demands for autonomy in 2016.

Then last year, as longtime President Biya refused any concessions, radicals declared the independent state of Ambazonia and took up arms.

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.

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