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Coronavirus: rebels in Cameroon declare ceasefire

Rebels in Cameroon have downed their weapons so as to allow people to get tested for the coronavirus.

The Southern Cameroons Defence Forces (Socadef) said its ceasefire would come into effect from Sunday  289th March 2020 as “a gesture of goodwill”.

The move was welcomed by Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, saying that the UN chief “calls on other armed groups to do the same thing”. 

READ ALSO: Coronavirus: UN calls for global ceasefire to fight COVID-19

It is so far the only armed group among many operating in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions to have heeded the UN’s call for a global ceasefire.

The fighters say they are marginalised in the majority French-speaking nation.

For the three years, they have been fighting government forces in the Anglophone regions with the aim of creating a breakaway state called “Ambazonia”.

But there is no indication that one of the biggest rebel group – Ambazonia Defence Forces (ADF) – is to follow suit and declare a ceasefire.

Both separatist groups and Cameroon’s military have been accused of killing civilians and committing rights abuses during the Anglophone crisis. 

Chief mediator Alexandre Liebeskind, from the conflict resolution group Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, told the BBC that the ADF had refused to join the negotiations.

“They are the only group which refused to join the process,” he said. But he added that he hoped other groups would follow Socadef’s example.

Mr Liebeskind says the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue is also appealing to militias elsewhere in Africa – in the Sahel and Central African Republic – in the hope it could allow a “better response to the coronavirus” as well as “lead to some kind of politically negotiated solution”.

“To do my job you need to be an optimist,” says Mr Liebeskind.

“Sitting in Africa, I am particularly concerned because it’s a fragile continent. The economic and social consequences of coronavirus could be devastating if it is not quickly contained.”