Just hours after a Bishop in Cameroon’s volatile North West region called for an end to the ongoing civil conflict, two priests were kidnapped.
Father Franklin Banadzem Dindzee, the director of youth ministry for the Diocese of Kumbo, and Father Patrick Atang of Mbessa Parish were taken late at night on Thursday when they were travelling to the town of Elak-Oku.
Hours earlier, Bishop George Nkuo of Kumbo had publicly denounced the atrocities committed by government soldiers and separatists in the area.
“Kumbo has had its fair share of suffering,” the bishop said during the Assumption Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus.
Innocent people killed
“We have seen innocent people brutally killed. A lot of people have lost their homes and property. Violence and all forms of torture and cruelty have become so common that we now consider it normal to kill, torture, extort and ask for ransoms,” he continued. “We continue to hear gruesome stories of people kidnapped or arrested, tortured and asked to pay huge ransoms before they are released.”
After the kidnapping of the two priests, the diocese issued a statement calling for their immediate and unconditional release. The police are on the search for the abducted priests whose whereabouts are still unknown.
The Catholic Church has been vocal about speaking out for justice for Anglophone Cameroonians, as well as calling out the human rights abuses of the security forces; at the same time, they have condemned the tactics of the separatists. This has led the clergy to be targeted by both sides, and priests are often kidnapped for ransom by the separatists. The Archbishop Fontem Esua of Bamenda was himself held by rebels for hours after being stopped at a separatist checkpoint.
The separatists have made a school boycott a cornerstone of their secessionist strategy, with over 80 percent of children forced out of classes. Schools that tried to defy the boycott were burned down and students and teachers kidnapped.
“It is a crime against humanity to deny our children the right to go to school in the name of a struggle, no matter how legitimate our case may be,” the bishop said.
He also said that children fleeing Kumbo to seek schooling elsewhere have been “mercilessly exploited.”
“Is it OK, for us, people of Kumbo, for our children to leave Kumbo and pay 250,000 francs [about $500] as day students in Yaoundé or Douala, when with the same amount, you can sponsor five to ten students in Kumbo? I consider this exploitation. This exploitation must stop. And we can make this happen,” Nkuo said.
The bishop appealed to a sense of empathy from both separatists and government soldiers, and called on the people of his diocese to fight evil.
“History will stand to judge us,” he warned.
He said only an abiding faith in God and the love of Christ can bring peace back to Kumbo, and by extension, to Cameroon’s North West and South West regions.
Until then, Nkuo said that although he is worried about the situation, he isn’t scared.
“I am fully aware that anyone who speaks about these things stands the risk of being kidnapped or being killed. I am not sure that I am safe,” he said.