The 65-year-old Kamto was jailed in January after his party staged several peaceful marches challenging that result.
Released in October, he has since tried three times to hold marches but was denied permission each time.
The West African country was for years considered relatively stable, but it has been shaken by a two-year-old separatist uprising in the west as well as attacks by the jihadist group Boko Haram in the north.
Biya, under international pressure, held a national peace dialogue last month during which he announced the release of 333 detainees linked to the separatist crisis.
He also ordered the release of 102 opposition activists arrested in 2018 during protests over his re-election.
Contacted by AFP, MRC general secretary Christopher Ndong said the party needed time to evaluate the news of fresh elections before responding.
“We have asked that certain preconditions be met, such as the revision of the electoral code,” he said.
The main opposition party in parliament is still the Social Democratic Front (SDF), even though its candidate in last year’s presidential election garnered only 3.35 percent of the vote, coming in fourth.
Contacted by AFP, the party was not immediately willing to say whether it would take part in next year’s elections.
Late last month, Washington announced it was stripping Cameroon of its preferential trade status because of its poor rights record.
The United States will end certain preferential trade benefits for Cameroon in January due to the country’s poor human rights record, officials said on Thursday.
Under the US African Growth and Opportunity Act of 2000, legislation aimed at boosting sub-Saharan economies, countries must avoid serious human rights violations to win preferential access to US markets.
“The US government remains deeply concerned about persistent gross violations of human rights being committed by the Cameroonian government against its own citizens,” Deputy US Trade Representative C.J. Mahoney said in a statement.
The US State Department earlier this year said the conflict in western regions of the country between Cameroonian security forces and Anglophone separatists had involved arbitrary killings, enforced disappearances and torture by both sides.
The department also accused Cameroonian authorities of violence against journalists, refoulement of refugees, restrictions on internet access and failure to prevent or prosecute instances of “corrective” rape against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, among other abuses.
Cameroonian strongman Paul Biya has been in power for 37 years.
The United States imported $220 million in Cameroonian goods last year, making the country the 112th-largest source of American merchandise imports, according to the US Trade Representative’s office.
Imports included mineral fuels, lumber, cocoa and rubber.
US exports to Cameroon last year amounted to $193 million, including machinery, iron and steel, plastics and railway equipment.
Cameroon’s main opposition leader Maurice Kamto walked free from jail Saturday after a military court ordered his release at the behest of veteran President Paul Biya.
The surprise conciliatory gesture comes as the president is facing a number of domestic crises and international criticism over political freedoms.
“We are here today thanks to your constant support,” Kamto, who had spent nine months behind bars, told hundreds of supporters who gathered to greet him.
“I saw you even when you couldn’t see me.”
He announced a “new chapter in our struggle”, adding that “if some people think that our liberation means the end of our struggle they have understood nothing”.
The struggle would be “peaceful”, he said before being driven away surrounded by a dozen-strong escort of klaxon-blaring vehicles.
Kamto, 65, was arrested in late January after months of peaceful opposition protests over the results of the October 2018 election.
He went on trial with dozens of others in a military court in September on charges of insurrection, hostility to the motherland and rebellion — crimes which could be given the death penalty, though this is no longer carried out in Cameroon.
Biya, 86, has ruled Cameroon with an iron fist for nearly 37 years.
On Friday he announced he had ordered prosecutions to be dropped against “some” opposition leaders, including a number from the main Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC) which Kamto leads.
More than 100 people in detention are also now set for release “if they have not been detained for anything else”, the military court said.
They include Biya’s former economic advisor Christian Penda Ekoka, lawyer Michele Ndoki and rapper Valsero, well known for songs critical of the ruling establishment.
Amnesty International called Biya’s decision “a welcome step towards ending the long repression of dissenting voices in Cameroon”.
But the organisation also called on authorities to “go further by releasing all other individuals arbitrarily detained for having exercised their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”.
As the opposition leader arrived at his home in a residential neighbourhood of Yaounde following his release, he was met by dozens of cheering, dancing young people.
“Maurice Kamto, save us,” the crowd chanted.
Most of those gathered were under 30 and — like around 75 percent of the population — would not have known another leader than Biya.
“We are tired of this system that has been in place for 37 years,” said one protester, Abraham. “We want alternance in power. We want a new momentum for our country.”
‘Crises and conflicts’
Biya’s shock announcement Friday came on the closing day of crunch talks aimed at easing a bloody crisis in Cameroon’s anglophone regions, which were shunned by the main separatist leaders.
The talks also ended with a proposal to give more autonomy to the English-speaking regions, where a two-year armed campaign for independence has been met with a brutal crackdown and cost nearly 3,000 lives, according to the International Crisis Group.
In addition, Biya had Thursday announced the shelving of an investigation and the release of 333 people detained during the crisis.
The two areas in western Cameroon — the Northwest Region and Southwest Region — are home to most of the country’s anglophones, who account for about a fifth of a population that is overwhelmingly French-speaking.
A presidential statement Saturday said that “the head of state reaffirms his determination to pursue relentlessly his efforts seeking ways and means to resolve peaceably the crises and conflicts confronting our country”.
The apparent seachange in Biya’s approach comes after months of intransigence and follows international pressure.
Washington indicated in March that Yaounde would do well to free Kamto — a sentiment repeated since by the European Union and also France.
“The president is well aware that Cameroon is at a crossroads as it is dealing with important crises,” Richard Makon, an expert on Cameroon politics, told AFP.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement on Saturday that he “encourages the Cameroonian authorities to continue to adopt further confidence-building and reconciliation measures”.
A Cameroonian military court Saturday ordered the release of main opposition leader Maurice Kato who has been imprisoned for nine months, after a series of conciliatory gestures by veteran ruler Paul Biya.
The court said Kamto and 101 others summoned could be released “if they have not been detained for anything else”. Kamto’s lawyer Sylvain Souop added: “We note the release of our clients who should not have been in prison. Maurice Kamto is free.”
Biya on Friday announced he had ordered prosecutions to be dropped against “some” opposition leaders, including a number from the main Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC) led by his jailed rival Kamto.
President Paul Biya on Thursday ordered the prosecution of people numbering over 300, linked to the separatist crisis in Cameroon’s anglophone regions to be dropped.
“The president today decided to halt prosecutions that are pending in military tribunals… for crimes committed in the context of the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest regions,” a statement said.
The announcement was made by Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute at a national “dialogue,” launched by Biya, on resolving the turmoil in the two English-speaking regions.
He said Biya sought “a measure to calm (the situation)… while we continue our work.”
The premier read it first in French, which said “333 people (were) concerned” by the measure.
This was followed by a statement in English, which said Biya had “already announced the release of over 330 persons who were in custody.”
Armed separatists in the Northwest and Southwest regions have launched a two-year-old campaign for independence from Cameroon, where French is the predominant language.
Biya’s government has responded with a crackdown that rights groups have fiercely condemned.
The International Crisis Group has estimated that nearly 3,000 people have been killed in violence committed by both sides and more than half a million people have fled their homes.
Biya’s “dialogue,” which opened on Monday and is scheduled to end on Friday, brings together political groups, civil society, and religious groups, as well as representatives of the armed forces.
But armed rebel groups have snubbed the forum, and analysts have questioned whether the initiative can achieve much while the main separatist leaders are behind bars.
In August, secessionist leader Julius Ayuk Tabe — the self-proclaimed president of “Ambazonia” — was sentenced to life in prison along with nine of his supporters.
English-speakers account for about a fifth of Cameroon’s population of 24 million.
They are mainly concentrated in the Northwest and Southwest regions, which were folded into Cameroon after the colonial era in Africa wound down six decades ago.
Resentment has festered there for years among English-speakers who complain of discrimination and marginalisation, especially in education, the judiciary, and economic opportunities.
Biya, 86, who has been in power for nearly 37 years, repeatedly refused demands for decentralisation or a return to Senegal’s federal structure — a move blamed for radicalisation of the anglophone movement.
The death toll from a Cameroon ferry that capsized this week has risen to 17 after more bodies were found, state radio said Wednesday, though the total number of victims was still unknown.
Fourteen more bodies were recovered from the Bakassi Peninsula on Tuesday, two days after the ferry sunk off southwestern Cameroon, Cameroon Radio Television reported.
A source with local authorities confirmed the details to AFP.
State media had initially reported that three victims — of Cameroonian, Nigerian and French nationality — were found and more than 100 people were rescued when the ship went down overnight Sunday to Monday.
About 133 Nigerian refugees comprising mostly women and children who fled Nigeria for Cameroon in the wake of the Boko Haram insurgence in the northeast have returned to the country.
The returnees touched down at the Yola International Airport aboard the Nigerian Air Force C130 at about 5:00 pm on Thursday.
They were accompanied by officials of the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, UNHCR, IOM, NAPTIP, security agencies and other humanitarian organisations.
Upon their arrival, they were taken to a facility within the Yola International Airport where food was provided for them before going through a screening process.
According to the UNHCR Representative, Roger Volo, the exercise is a voluntary repatriation because the refugees voluntarily signed to return to their ancestral homes.
Also speaking on the repatriation, the newly sworn in Minister for Humanitarian Services, Disaster Management and Internally Displaced Persons, Sadiya Faruk who was on ground to receive the refugees, assured them that government will take care of their welfare.
There are about 97,000 Nigerians taking refuge in Cameroon out of which 8,000 are from Adamawa state while the rest are indigenes of Borno and Yobe State.
According to the Minister, the evacuation of the refugees will continue until all those who are willing to return are brought back home.
Narrating her ordeal, one of the returnees, Amina Saidu, lamented that while in Cameroon, she and her family had to endure so much hardship.
“We were in Cameroon for five years but I left my husband there because he wanted to harvest his farm before returning home in the next batch.
“While in Cameroon we suffered, we didn’t have water and we suffered a lot to fetch fire wood for our cooking. Whenever they give us food, we eat half of it while we sell the other half to meet our other needs. We were not given other condiments except salt, so we need money to buy other food items.
“We are very happy to be back home. We thank God and also the government for bringing us back home,” she said.
The Adamawa State Governor who was represented by the Secretary to the State Government, Basir Ahmed, said he was delighted about their return.
Cameroonian authorities detained and tortured more than 100 prisoners, including suspected members of the country’s anglophone separatist movement, after a jail riot last month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Tuesday.
The prisoners were taken to a military detention facility the morning after rioting broke out in the Central Prison in the capital Yaounde on July 22, the rights group said.
They were held incommunicado, beaten by gendarmes and guards and interrogated at gunpoint, it said, citing interviews with 14 detainees and several lawyers.
“The gendarmes put a piece of cloth on my nose and beat me. I was tortured like this, beaten badly several times on my legs and back,” HRW said, quoting a 37-year-old man from the city of Bamenda.
The rioting in Central Prison had been sparked by anger at overcrowding, living conditions and delays in bringing detainees’ cases to court, HRW said.
Many of those held there were suspected anglophone rebels, whose movement has declared a separate state for English-speaking rebels in the majority francophone country, its report said.
Nearly 2,000 people have been killed in violence between separatists and security forces in the anglophone regions since October 2017, according to an independent toll.
Others at the Central Prison were members of the opposition party, the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC), according to HRW.
According to HRW, “at least 100” were taken to a facility called the State Defence Secretariat (SED), where the abuse occurred. They were held between July 23 and August 4, it said.
On August 3, the government said that 244 prisoners had been held in connection with the unrest.
Communication Minister Emmanuel Sadi said detainees were being held “in line with legal procedure, with the utmost respect for the law.” Several of them had been found in possession of knives, he maintained.
The Cameroonian navy and the country’s port service had reported the kidnappings on Thursday but had been unable to give the number or nationality of those taken.
A navy source said the kidnappers “are probably Nigerian pirates,” adding that Cameroon’s security forces had launched a search for them.
The Gulf of Guinea, whose coastline stretches in a huge arc from Liberia to Gabon, is notorious for piracy as well as oil theft, illegal fishing and human and drugs trafficking.
In Malaysia, Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), a watchdog agency, said the 17 seamen were seized from two ships that were attacked within hours of each other while they were anchored off Douala.
Choong said one of the ships was a multipurpose German-owned ship that flew the flag of Antigua and Barbuda.
“Eight crew were kidnapped from the ship, consisting of a total of 12 Asian and European sailors,” he said.
The other vessel was a Liberian-flagged bulk carrier managed in Greece with a Greek owner.
“There were 21 crew on board. All were Asians. Nine crew were taken,” Choong told AFP.
“(The) IMB has issued a warning to all ships at Douala. We ask all ships to take additional precaution.”
Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement quoted by news agencies that three of the kidnapped sailors were Russian nationals. Many Ukrainians also hold Russian citizenship.
In recent years, the seas off West Africa have become “the world’s worst for pirate attacks,” according to the IMB.
Attacks doubled in the Gulf of Guinea in 2018 compared to the previous year — the bulk of them due to piracy, it said.
Of the 75 seafarers taken hostage in the first half of this year, 62 were abducted in the gulf, IMB figures showed.
The Gulf of Guinea now accounts for 73 percent of kidnappings and 92 percent of hostage-takings at sea worldwide, particularly off the coast of Nigeria, Guinea, Togo, Benin and Cameroon.
The 17 countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea and adjacent coastline have limited surveillance and maritime defence capabilities.
They have been trying for several years to bolster their means of intervention and to put in place closer collaboration.
Ten Turkish sailors were freed last week after being kidnapped by “pirates” off Nigeria last month. Pirates normally seize sailors hoping to be paid ransom.
Cameroon coach Clarence Seedorf refused to speculate on his future after the defending champions crashed out of the Africa Cup of Nations in the last 16 after Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Nigeria.
Odion Ighalo scored two goals and set up Alex Iwobi for the winner as Nigeria rallied from 2-1 down after Cameroon had struck twice in quick succession through Stephane Bahoken and Clinton Njie before-half time in Alexandria.
“Maybe you want to give us a few days,” Seedorf responded when asked his for his plans following a premature end to Cameroon’s title defence.
“The first thing is I’m very sorry for the boys. They have worked really hard and played well but this is football and only one can win in the end. It’s not so important in my future. The important thing is what we have built until now, we’ve improved in many aspects on and off the pitch.
“It’s a group that is very united. I hope the people at home can be proud of the fighting spirit we’ve shown. Obviously, the disappointment is really big but this is sport. This is the moment where everyone must say we are united and continue to work for the future.”
The former Dutch star has won just three of nine competitive games since taking over the Indomitable Lions alongside assistant Patrick Kluivert last August and struggled to convince he is the right man for the job.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute I’ve been working with this group, being in Africa especially. And we’ll see what comes in the future,” Seedorf said.
“I feel disappointment obviously and also some anger because I thought we were a little bit tense in a few moments, but I have to appreciate the players have done everything they could today. It was not enough.”
“I repeat that we will stay united and not throw away all the great work the team has done in the last months,” he added.
President Muhammadu Buhari has congratulated the Super Eagles of Nigeria for defeating the indomitable lions of Cameroon 3-2 and advancing to the quarter-finals stage of the African Cup of Nations in Egypt.
According to a statement by the Special Adviser to the President on Media & Publicity, Femi Adesina, President Buhari recognised the hardwork and sportsmanship of the team.