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France

Hollande urges caution for French citizens abroad

© AFP

Video by Mark THOMPSON

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-11-15

France’s President François Hollande on Thursday urged French citizens not to put their lives in danger in high-risk regions of the world, after a French priest was abducted overnight from his parish in northern Cameroon.

France’s President François Hollande on Thursday cautioned French citizens against placing themselves in danger in high-risk regions of the world after Georges Vandenbeusch, a French priest, was seized from his parish in northern Cameroon.

Vandenbeusch, 42, was the parish priest of Nguetchewe, a settlement near the town of Koza, which lies about 30 kilometres from Cameroon’s border with Nigeria. He was abducted overnight by unknown gunmen and led barefoot through the village before he was taken to an unknown location on a motorbike, according to FRANCE 24’s sister station, Radio France Internationale (RFI).

Efforts to locate Vandenbeusch were already underway Thursday morning.

"We are doing everything possible for this priest to be found and to give him back his freedom," Hollande said. "He was practising his faith in an area he knew to be dangerous. Nevertheless, everything must be done and will be done so that he can be released without delay."

"I would also ask all of my compatriots who live or travel in what I would qualify as high-risk areas not to do anything that puts their lives in danger or leaves them vulnerable to kidnapping," he added.

A statement by the French foreign ministry said that the region where Vandenbeusch worked lies in an area designated a “red zone” by the ministry’s crisis centre and French nationals are formally discouraged from visiting the area due to terrorist threats and the risk of kidnapping.

Vandenbeusch had chosen to stay in this remote border region and was well known among locals, the statement added.

French family kidnapped near border and released

On February 19, a French family of seven, including four children, was kidnapped in the same region by Boko Haram and released two months later. The Moulin-Fournier family was taken from the town of Dadanga, six kilometres from the Nigerian border, after visiting the Waza Park nature reserve.

The kidnapping of the French priest came a day after the US officially designated Boko Haram a foreign terrorist organisation.

Founded in the northeastern Nigerian town of Maiduguri around 2002, Boko Haram - which in the local Hausa language means “Western education is sacrilege” – aims to implement strict Sharia law across Nigeria, a multi-ethnic nation of more than 160 million people split largely into a Muslim majority north and a Christian and animist south.

In recent months, following a Nigerian military crackdown, Boko Haram fighters have been pushed toward the northern border with Cameroon and have been infiltrating the neighbouring nation in the hilly border areas.

“Terrorism experts in France have been saying they wouldn’t be surprised at all if this [Vandenbeusch’s abduction] was the work of Boko Haram,” said FRANCE 24’s International Affairs Editor Armen Georgian. “We’ve heard that the kidnappers spoke English, which is the lingua franca in neighbouring Nigeria.”

A former French colony, Cameroon shares a 1,700 km border with Nigeria, which stretches from the Atlantic coast to Lake Chad.

Cameroonian security officials have been cooperating with their Nigerian counterparts, but the long border is not easy to police, according to security experts.

In recent months, Cameroonian authorities have been wary of Boko Haram’s infiltration into local communities and mosques. Communities on either side of the border in this area have cultural and religious similarities and analysts fear that the deep-seated grievances of local groups on either side of the border could lead to increasing radicalism in the area.

Date created : 2013-11-14

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