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Africa

French priest kidnapped in northern Cameroon

© Le père Georges Vandenbeusch © DR / Le Parisien

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-11-14

A search is under way for French priest Georges Vandenbeusch (pictured), who was kidnapped overnight from his northern Cameroon parish near the Nigerian border. Militants from the Boko Haram Islamist group are known to operate in the area.

A search is under way for a French Catholic priest who was kidnapped overnight in northern Cameroon, the French foreign ministry (Quai d'Orsay) and Cameroonian security forces confirmed on Thursday.

Georges Vandenbeusch was abducted near the town of Koza, about 30 kilometres from the Cameroon-Nigeria border, a region where the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram is known to operate.

The parish priest of Nguetchewe, a settlement near Koza, Vandenbeusch was seized 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, RFI.

A statement by the French foreign ministry said the region 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.

A search mission is underway to verify the circumstances of the abduction and the identity of the kidnappers, according to the French foreign ministry.

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, 6 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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