Five Catholic priests, one consecrated sister and two laypeople were kidnapped by unknown assailants who set fire to a church on Friday in western Cameroon, the Bishops of the ecclesiastical province of Bamenda announced in statement dated September 17. The Mamfe diocese located in South West region is one of two restive regions in Cameroon where separatists have been waging war to the federal authorities since 2017.
It is with "shock and utter horror" that the Bishops of the ecclesiastical province of Bamenda in Western Cameroon announced the kidnapping of "five priests, a nun and two lay faithful". "On the evening of September 16", a statement received by AFP on Sunday started, the Christians were abducted and St Mary's Church in Nchang (South West region) was burned down.
Archbishop Andrew Nkea, who signed the statement, did not give any details of the attack, did not attribute it to anyone in particular and said that the kidnappers had given "no concrete reason" for the act.
Murders, ransackings and kidnappings have become frequent in this region, where armed separatist groups regularly target schools and teachers in particular, but also Catholic and Protestant churches and their prelates. But the bishops of the region assure that Friday's kidnapping is "completely unprecedented" in its scale.
Past kidnappings like the one of late Cardinal Christian Tumi are frequently carried out by separatist groups and can end with the release of the hostages for ransom or after negotiations with local traditional and religious leaders. More recently, it is a senator, Regina Mundi who was abducted for almost 2 months.
The North West and South West regions, populated mainly by Cameroon's English-speaking minority, have been the scene of a deadly conflict for nearly six years between armed groups demanding independence and security forces deployed on a massive scale by the government of President Paul Biya, 89, who has ruled Cameroon with an iron fist for nearly 40 years.
Both sides are regularly accused by international NGOs and the UN of committing crimes and atrocities against civilians, the main victims of this war.
The conflict has left more than 6,000 people dead since the end of 2016 and forced more than a million people to move, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank.