JERUSALEM (Aug. 26)
President Paul Biya of Cameroon announced Tuesday that his country was resuming diplomatic relations with Israel, 13 years after it had severed ties after the Yom Kippur War. The announcement capped the two day visit by Israeli Premier Shimon Peres, the first Israeli Premier to visit Cameroon since 1966.
Peres and Biya held several rounds of talks on bilateral matters Monday and on Tuesday they announced that cooperative agreements had been reached on trade, industry, agriculture, tourism and security. There was no immediate indication that agreement had been reached on Israeli military aid to Cameroon, although this issue was an expected topic on the Peres-Biya agenda.
REASONS FOR CAMEROON’S DECISION
At a meeting with reporters Monday, Biya said that Cameroon’s decision to restore ties with Israel was the result of ongoing relations between the two countries during the past few years. According to Israeli officials, the two countries have had secret trade relations since 1981.
When Biya took power in 1983, Israel was allowed to establish an interest section in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon. Since then, Cameroon re-evaluated the situation of Israeli-Black African relations, Biya said.
He noted that African nations broke relations with Israel because of its occupation of the Sinai Peninsula. However, now that Egypt and Israel have signed a peace treaty and Sinai has been returned, there is no reason for African nations not to resume relations with Israel, Biya said.
Cameroon is the fourth Black African nation — after Ivory Coast, Liberia and Zaire–to resume relations. Twenty-nine African countries severed ties with Israel under Arab pressure in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Only Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland continued relations.
Israel also has “semi-diplomatic” relations, at the interest section level, with the states of Gabon, Ghana, Kenya and Togo. Gabon and Togo are regarded in Israel as the most likely to resume full relations soon.
PERES AND BIYA CONDEMN APARTHEID
At a joint conference Tuesday, at the end of Peres’ visit shortly before his departure for Israel, a nine-hour flight, Biya and the Israeli Premier both condemned the apartheid policy of the government of South Africa, and expressed concern over events in that country.
But Peres made it clear, in remarks to reporters, that Israel would not take the lead in urging economic sanctions against South Africa. “We don’t fell it is for us to be making policy vis-a-vis South Africa, “Peres was quoted as saying. “We are a party to world policy. We shall follow the resolutions, but I don’t think we have to take the lead in formulating a policy toward South Africa. That does not mean that we are indifferent. A Jewish person could never support apartheid.”
Biya announced that he had accepted an invitation by Peres to visit Israel. He thanked Israel for the speedy medical relief it extended to his country following the volcanic gas explosion near Lake Nios, about 240 miles northeast of Yaounde, which killed an estimated 1,500 people, according to unofficial reports.
A medical team which accompanied Peres to Cameroon brought four tons of equipment to aid survivors of the disaster. The team remained behind after Peres left “until its mission is completed,” according to reports from Yaounde. According to these reports, the team still had not reached the disaster area by Tuesday. They reportedly took a long and difficult route to the villages hit by the gas explosion.
Peres’ visit to Cameroon was marked by a lavish reception tendered by Biya and by extensive greetings by thousands of Cameroonians who were at the Yaounde airport when Peres arrived. Some of them, who had studied in Israel previously, greeted Peres with “shalom.” A special issue of The Cameroon Tribune was published with Peres’ picture on the front page and a headline in Hebrew saying “Mr. Peres, Welcome to Cameroon.” The Hebrew letters, however, were printed upside down.
On his return to Israel, Peres sought to stop in Kenya for a public meeting with President Daniel Arap Moi but the Kenyan leader refused to do so, according to a report in Haaretz. Arap-Moi reportedly said that the time was not ripe for such a meeting, and that he prefered to maintain the relations with Israel at its present level.