French priest kidnapped in Cameroon back home

French priest kidnapped in Cameroon back home

PARIS - A French Catholic priest abducted in Cameroon by Islamic militants arrived home Wednesday after a seven-week ordeal he described as a time of "terrible boredom, sadness and anger".

The circumstances of Georges Vandenbeusch's release are unclear, but both France - often accused of paying ransoms for hostages despite stiff government denials - and his captors Boko Haram have denied that a ransom was paid.

The 42-year-old, who was freed on Tuesday, touched down at Villacoublay military air base near Paris where President Francois Hollande greeted him and hailed his "courage" and "self-sacrifice".

He had been kidnapped on November 13 by heavily armed men who burst into his parish at night in the far north of the central African country and reportedly took him to neighbouring Nigeria.

The radical Islamist movement Boko Haram, which has killed thousands of people in attacks against Christians and government targets in northern Nigeria, claimed responsibility for holding him soon after he was kidnapped.

A source within the Islamist group told AFP Wednesday they had asked Paris for money through the Cameroon government, but that France refused and requested Vandenbeusch be released on humanitarian grounds because of his status as a clergyman.

"The leadership (of Boko Haram) decided to release the priest on compassionate grounds and having benefited from his medical expertise," the source told AFP.

"The priest offered medical service to sick members during his period of captivity. The leadership felt there was no longer need for keeping him."

But in an interview to France 2 television, the priest denied treating any militants.

"I am not a nurse nor a doctor. Had they brought me someone who is bleeding, I would have done what I could, but they didn't. They have compassion for no-one," he said.

A Cameroonian security source told AFP that an unidentified Boko Haram leader detained in Cameroon had been freed in return for the release of the priest.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who flew to the Cameroonian capital Yaounde to bring back Vandenbeusch, said negotiations with the captors had been focused "mainly on judicial aspects".

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