YAOUNDE, Cameroon (AP) — Cameroon's government started a national dialogue Monday to try to solve the separatist conflict that has killed thousands in the country's English-speaking regions in the past two years, but key separatist leaders refused to attend.

Nearly 3,000 people have died since 2017 in fighting in the regions over the separatist issue, including 300 defense and security forces. The violence forced more than 500,000 people from their homes.

The talks being led by Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute begin Monday and extend through Friday. They include delegates from civil society groups, lawmakers, traditional rulers and Cameroonians in the diaspora.

The separatists, however, refuse to talk until their leader is released.

On Monday, the prime minister said by solving issues of marginalization many separatists would give up their fight.