A French priest kidnapped by Islamic radicals in northern Cameroon last November after ignoring danger warnings has been set free, President Francois Hollande's office said yesterday.
Georges Vandenbeusch was kidnapped by heavily armed men on November 13 in the far north of Cameroon, about 30km from the border with Nigeria. There was never a claim of responsibility, but suspicion fell on the radical Islamic sect Boko Haram which operates in the area, the Koza region, or on Ansaru, a Boko Haram splinter group responsible for most kidnappings of foreigners there.
Arriving at the airport in Cameroon's capital Yaounde, Vandenbeusch, looking tired and dressed all in white, expressed thanks to authorities in Cameroon, France and Nigeria for his release.
"I am in good health and so grateful to those who worked for my release," he said before being taken to the French embassy. "(It was) terribly boring. I spent seven weeks with nothing to do, pacing in circles in my tent under a tree without a book to read or a person to talk to."
The zone has been flagged as a risk for terrorism and kidnapping, but the priest - who cared for Nigerian refugees - chose to stay on to "exercise his mission," the French Foreign Ministry said at the time.
In a statement from his office, the French president thanked authorities in Cameroon and Nigeria for their "relentless" efforts in helping to free the priest. He "particularly" thanked Cameroon President Paul Biya for personally working on the case, but provided no details on how the release was secured.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he spoke to Biya regularly during the priest's captivity and the release came early yesterday - with no ransom paid. Fabius travelled to Yaounde to bring Vandenbeusch home.
Eyewitnesses said that a group of at least a dozen armed and masked gunmen had burst into the compound where Vandenbeusch lived and whisked him off on a motorbike, firing guns as they sped away. Two days after the priest was snatched, the kidnappers sent a representative to the area to demand the release of captured Boko Haram members, fellow priest Gilbert Pali said at the time.
Boko Haram has waged a campaign of bombings and shootings across Nigeria's north.