Kidnapped French priest freed in Cameroon

Kidnapped French priest freed in Cameroon

YAOUNDE - A French Roman Catholic priest held hostage for seven weeks by Islamic militants in Cameroon arrived home in France on Wednesday a day after his release, hailed as a New Year's gift.

Georges Vandenbeusch, 42, who was freed on Tuesday, said he had not been mistreated by his captors despite being kept in "rustic conditions".

Smiling, and freshly shaven, the priest was greeted in Paris by President Francois Hollande and a group of loved ones.

Vandenbeusch was 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 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 the French priest soon after he was kidnapped.

Vandenbeusch described his time in captivity as a period of "terrible boredom, sadness and anger because I'm very fond of the parish where I worked" in Cameroon.

"I was under a tree for a month and a half," he said, explaining that his two main guards spoke a local language and not English, he did not have anything to read, or a radio to listen to.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who went to collect the priest in Cameroon, hailed his release as "the best end of year gift".

While the circumstances of the priest's release are unclear, Fabius insisted that France, often accused of paying ransoms for hostages despite stiff government denials, had not paid for the release of the priest.

"The French government does not pay ransoms. There were discussions," Fabius told journalists.

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