18 February 2019, The Tablet

Church on the 'front line' in Cameroon

'A priest and a seminarian have both been murdered in the anglophone region. In the case of the latter it was a deliberate execution'

Church on the 'front line' in Cameroon

Children and staff at St Augustine's Secondary College, Kumbo

A Catholic Bishop in English-speaking northwest Cameroon has said the spiralling crisis in the country is putting the church at risk. 

Bishop Michael Bibi of Bamenda, regional capital of northwest Cameroon, told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that the church is on "the front line". 

He said: "A priest and a seminarian have both been murdered in the anglophone region. In the case of the latter it was a deliberate execution, staged in front of his church in the presence of the parishioners."

Seminarian Akiata Gerard Anjiangwe, aged 19, was killed by soldiers on 4 October 2018 outside St Therese's Church in Bamessing village, near Ndop, northwest Cameroon.

The bishop added: "Sadly, these two are not simply isolated cases. I receive alarming news from many priests and religious who have been shot at, or kidnapped and ransomed. I myself have been arrested, but they let me go again after a few hours."

Separatist militias in Anglophone Cameroon launched an insurrection in 2017 against the predominantly Francophone central government after authorities violently repressed peaceful protests against perceived repression of the English-speaking minority.

The conflict between anglophone separatists, who want to create an independent state called Ambazonia, and government forces has since seen more than 400 people killed and 430,000 displaced.

Bishop Bibi told ACN that, despite renewing its efforts to promote dialogue between separatists and the government, the Church is accused by both parties of taking sides.

He said: "We tell the young people to stay in school and not join the militias, that it will lead to nothing - and so the militias accuse us of playing the government's game for them.

"But we also denounce the actions of the government army and call for the region to be demilitarised - and so all of a sudden we are accused by the authorities of siding with the rebels.

"The truth we speak is not welcome in the midst of this fratricidal conflict. The truth is that both sides are involved in the killing and are only adding violence to violence."

He added: "Thanks be to God, the Cameroonian people have a strong faith… What is needed now is for our political leaders to be likewise illuminated by this faith."

On 16 February, a Catholic School in Kumbo, also in the northwest, has been shut down after unidentified gunmen briefly kidnapped more than 150 students.

The gunmen, thought to be secessionists rebels, stormed St Augustine’s Secondary College and seized 170 students, two security guards, a teacher and three of his children.

“The abductees were released in the afternoon of Sunday and conveyed back to the college campus in the evening,” Fr Elvis Nsaikila, the Diocesan Director of Communications said. He did nor disclose who was behind the kidnap or whether the school paid any ransoms to the abductors.

The Kumbo school attack, was not the first in the English Northwest region. A similar incident took place in November last year in the regional headquarter, Bamenda, where more than 80 people, including the school principal, a teacher, a driver and 79 students, were kidnapped from the Presbyterian Secondary School, Nkwen by suspected secessionists.







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