Gunmen kidnapped five priests, a nun and two churchgoers after setting a Catholic church on fire in western Cameroon. The region has been the scene of a bloody conflict between anglophone separatists and the country’s government for several years.
Those who were abducted from St. Mary’s Church in the town of Nchang remained missing Tuesday, AFP quoted the bishops of the ecclesiastical province of Bamenda as saying as they expressed their “shock and utter horror.”
Archbishop Andrew Nkea said the kidnappers had given “no concrete reason” for last Friday’s attack.
The bishops said they “strongly condemn all these attacks against the church and her ministers,” and appealed “to those who have taken the priests, the nun, and the Christians in Nchang to release them without further delay,” Catholic News Agency reported.
“We insist on this because this act has now crossed the red line and we must say that ‘enough is enough,’” they added. “A wave of persecutions against the hierarchy of the church is now the new game of the ‘struggle,’ and all kinds of threat messages are sent out against missionaries who have surrendered their lives to work for the people.”
Cameroon’s security forces have been battling rebel groups that are seeking independence for the country’s northwestern and southwestern parts, also known as the Anglophone region, to create a new country, Ambazonia. French is spoken in other parts of the country.
About two-thirds of Cameroon’s population is Christian and Muslim constitute about 30%.
Armed separatist groups emerged in 2017 after the government cracked down on protests. Cameroon’s President Paul Biya called the groups “terrorists.”
The conflict has killed thousands and displaced as many as 500,000 since 2014, CAN said, noting that on Sept. 6, suspected militant separatists opened fire on a bus in Muyuka, killing at least six civilians.
In their statement, the bishops said attackers had increasingly targeted the Catholic Church along with Presbyterian and Baptist churches.
Last February, the country’s defense forces were accused of killing at least 32 people, including a pregnant woman and 14 children, in Cameroon’s English-speaking region.
“We outrightly condemn the killing of children, women and the entire household in Ngarbuh — Ntumbaw. We equally denounce the ungodly act of burning a PCC house of worship at Mbufung — Bali,” the Rt. Rev. Fonki Samuel Forba, moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, said in a statement at the time, according to Cameroon-Info.Net, which pointed to the role of defense and security forces.