Cameroon's Catholic clergy stay on despite kidnap fears

Cameroon's Catholic clergy stay on despite kidnap fears
This handout undated photo taken in Srinagar and released on November 15, 2013 by the Diocese de Nanterre, shows French priest Georges Vandenbeusch (R) posing with women during a trip in India. Vandenbeusch was kidnapped during November 13 to 14, 2013 night in the north of Cameroon near the border with Nigeria. Boko Haram is holding the French priest, a source in the banned Nigerian Islamist group said on November 15, 2013, rejecting claims of a rift among the insurgents.

NGUETCHEWE, Cameroon - Father Georges Vandenbeusch's glasses are still lying abandoned on his desk, a reminder of his sudden kidnapping three days ago near Cameroon's border with Nigeria by Islamist group Boko Haram.

"He was never without them," said Sister Francoise, a nun who worked with Vandenbeusch in the Nguetchewe parish, about 30 kilometres (20 miles) from the Nigerian border.

"We don't know how he is, wherever he is. We don't know if he is cold, if he has enough food or if he's being treated properly."

Despite the kidnapping, claimed by banned Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram, Sister Francoise said she did not want to leave her parishioners.

"We are scared, but we are staying for the people," she said.

"We don't know what they will decide," she said of her superiors, who will make the final decision, but "I hope and think we will stay".

Colombian priest Germain Mazo from another parish on the Nigerian border said the kidnapping had come as "a real shock".

"We are very surprised," he said. "We knew the situation in Nigeria was deteriorating but we did not imagine such a thing could happen."

Cameroon 'knew Boko Haram planning attacks'

Mazo said he feared he too could be targeted after Vandenbeusch's abduction, but that he remained confident in the state's security measures.

Since the kidnapping, security has been tightened. The French foreign ministry said it had designated the area, from where seven members of a French family were kidnapped by Boko Haram in February, as a dangerous zone prone to militancy and kidnappings.

A dozen soldiers from the special rapid intervention battalion (BIR), an elite unit in the Cameroonian army, now make regular patrols in the village and its surroundings.

Two soldiers are stationed in the Nguetchewe parish itself, to protect the religious community.

At Cameroon's request, France has deployed two French police officers normally based in Chad to assist in the police investigation into the kidnapping.

Military and police sources said Cameroon was aware that Boko Haram, which said on Friday it was holding the French priest, was planning to kidnap Westerners in the far north.

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