- POSTED: 31 Dec 2013 18:15
- UPDATED: 31 Dec 2013 20:50
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A French Roman Catholic priest abducted by Islamic militants in Cameroon was released on Tuesday after a six-week ordeal.
PARIS: A French Roman Catholic priest abducted by Islamic militants in Cameroon was released on Tuesday after a six-week ordeal.
Georges Vandenbeusch, 42, 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 reportedly took him to neighbouring Nigeria.
He was flown to the Camaroon capital Yaounde where he was taken to the French ambassador's residence.
French President Francois Hollande had announced the news in a statement in which he thanked both Nigerian and Cameroonian authorities for helping secure the priest's release, and particularly Cameroon's President Paul Biya for his "personal involvement".
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.
The Nigerian army announced on Monday that it had begun a major ground and air offensive against Boko Haram close to Bama, which is near the porous border with Cameroon.
In the ongoing assault, troops killed 56 Boko Haram fighters, military spokesman Major-General Chris Olukolade said.
But Olukolade said Tuesday the Nigerian army was not involved in the release of the French priest.
"I have not received any briefings on the incident because the military were not involved," he said.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was also due to fly to Yaounde to greet the priest, and the two were expected to come back to Paris on Wednesday.
"It's really, really good news. We were working on this for some time, in close contact with... President Biya who has been extremely active and useful," Fabius told RTL radio.
He added that initial reports indicated Vandenbeusch was in good health.
The Vatican welcomed the release and called on the faithful to pray for those still being held around the world.
"We hope that all forms of violence, hatred and conflict in the tormented regions of Africa be stamped out, as well as elsewhere in the world," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.
There are still six French people being held hostage in Mali and Syria, and Hollande reiterated his support for their families, "particularly at this time of festivities."
Vandenbeusch was abducted from his home near the town of Koza in northern Cameroon, about 30 kilometres (20 miles) from the Nigerian border.
He was seized by about 15 people who had first gone to the nuns' house, apparently to look for money, giving him time to warn the embassy.
At the time, Hollande had promised everything was being done to find him, but had also warned other French citizens against putting themselves in harm's way.
The priest had been advised not to stay on in an area designated as a dangerous zone prone to militancy and kidnappings.
In February, a Frenchman employed by gas group Suez was kidnapped together with his wife, their four children and his brother while visiting a national park in the same area.
They were taken to neighbouring Nigeria and also held by Boko Haram, before being released in April.
France has always denied paying ransoms for its kidnapped nationals, and Fabius on Tuesday reiterated the policy.