Father Georges Vandenbeusch is to begin the New Year in an entirely different place from the abode he has occupied for the past seven weeks. The French priest who was kidnapped in Cameroon on November 17was released early Tuesday, December 31, 2013 according to an official statement from the French President. . He was welcomed back in France by President François Hollande, in Paris, on New Year’s Day.
The French cleric was abducted by Nigeria’s Islamist group Boko Haram near Koza in northern Cameroon, close to the border with Nigeria. According to his bishop, “around 15 gunmen burst into the compound in Nguetchewe where the priest worked”. President Hollande paid tribute to the “bravery” of the cleric, who was abducted from his parish by gunmen and moved to Nigeria.
Circumstances under which he was freed are still unclear, but the French Government insists no ransom was paid for his release, even as the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius added that there had been “discussions”.
The 42-year-old priest revealed he lived under a tree for almost a month and a half, where he had no access to reading material or radio. This, he said, was “terrible boredom sadness and anger because I’m very fond of the parish where I worked”.
Earlier, he told reporters in Cameroon: “I am in great shape, very grateful to all those who worked to free me.” At Villacoublay air base, Mr. Hollande thanked Cameroon’s President, Paul Biya, for his help in securing the cleric’s freedom.
The Islamic Boko Haram Group, which has been designated a terrorist group by the US had earlier this year abducted seven members of a French family called Moulin-Fournier – four of them children – in northern Cameroon and held hostage for two months.