A bishop in Cameroon has described how local youth have kidnapped three priests in his diocese and that their main target is the bishop himself.
Bishop Andrew Nkea said “boys” from villages in his Mamfe diocese were behind the abduction of the priests and had told their victims that unless the bishop pays the youths money they would kidnap him too.
The bishop has responded by threatening the youths with excommunication.
In a pastoral letter, seen by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Nkea said the youths were “venting their anger” against him after he attended the Grand National Dialogue in Yaounde, called in response to the conflict between the Anglophone and Francophone regions of the country.
The bishop stated: “[The youths] told the priests that their target was the bishop and, until [I] paid [my] fine [of 500,000 CFA francs (£655)], they would track [me] down and kidnap [me].
“The truth is I don’t have this kind of money to pay anybody.”
On 20th October, Father Felix Sunday, parish priest of Afap, was abducted by gunmen claiming to be Ambazonian separatists, who are seeking secession for Anglophone Cameroon from the rest of the country. He was released a day later.
That same day, two other priests narrowly escaped abduction.
On 1st November, four gunmen entered the presbytery of Kembong Parish and held the parish priest and the assistant priest at gunpoint, demanding one million CFA francs (£1,309).
In his pastoral letter, Bishop Nkea said: “The boys claimed that they took up guns to protect the population and it is a great contradiction that these guns are now being used to terrorize the very population they claimed to be protecting.
“We all joined to decry the brutality of the military against the people but now it is our own children who have turned against their own people and they think it is normal?”
The conflict between Francophone and Anglophone Cameroon has simmered for decades, reigniting in 2016 when teachers and lawyers protested the use of French in schools and courts, the subsequent fallout claiming 3,000 lives and displacing 500,000 people.
Following the abductions, Bishop Nkea withdrew priests from the parishes of Kembong, Ossing and Eyumojock until further notice.
The bishop stated: “These boys who harass the priests are from these villages, and until the population dialogues with their children and give me a written guarantee of the safety of the pastors who work for them, the parishes will remain without pastors.”