YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - Clergy in Cameroon have appealed to both sides in the country’s separatist conflict to stop abducting and harassing priests. Within the past two weeks, six Roman Catholic priests and missionaries were abducted, and a church attacked, leaving at least two dead and 11 wounded.
The Roman Catholic Church in Cameroon says its priests and missionaries are suffering assaults, abductions and torture in the country’s separatist conflict.
A church press release Tuesday says Cameroon’s military took Reverend Father Sylvester Ngarbah Nsah from Vekovi, a northwestern village, on June 4 and have yet to release him.
The church says the military accused Nsah of cooperating with separatists, which the church denies.
Reverend Father Humphrey Tatah Mbui is director of communications at the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon’s Catholic Bishops.
He says rebels also abducted Nsah three months ago and accused him of collaborating with the military before releasing him.
"The church preaches peace. The church teaches that you cannot have peace without justice and without the truth," Mbui said. "The church must keep on insisting on that justice and truth in and out of season. And when the church will speak the truth, often it does not sit well with one or the other side. Many parishes have been closed or they are not operating as they should."
Mbui says at least six priests and missionaries were tortured by the military or rebels within the past two weeks and had to be treated at hospitals.
Reverend Father Christopher Eboka is the Cathedral administrator of Mamfe, a town in the anglophone southwest.
He says rebels abducted him on May 22 and freed him only after 10 days in captivity.
"The church has been caught up in between the separatist fighters on the one hand, and the Cameroon military on the other hand," Eboka said. "The threats on the lives of priests, the attack on priests should be stopped. On Sunday, the 6th of June, priests gathered at the pastoral center, celebrating the anniversary of one of them, were attacked by unknown gunmen, who came in search of a priest."
The church said one person died in the attack, a second died in the hospital, and 11 others were treated for injuries.
The Episcopal Conference of Cameroon’s Bishops this month called on separatists to stop targeting and harassing local clergy.
Rebels on social media claimed government troops organized the attacks on churches to give the rebels a bad image, an often-repeated claim, which the military denies.
Cameroon’s military on state radio confirmed the rebel attacks on the church and past abductions but did not mention taking any priests into military custody.
Cameroon’s government says civilians suspected of collaborating with rebels are placed under investigation, but a spokesperson would not say how many priests or missionaries have been arrested.
A March Human Rights Watch report says both military and rebel abuses are increasing in Cameroon’s western regions.
The U.N. says Cameroon’s separatist conflict has left more than 3,000 people dead since 2016 and 750,000 internally displaced or to neighboring Nigeria.