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French Priest Freed After Cameroon Kidnapping

French Roman Catholic priest Georges Vandenbeusch (L) smiles on Dec. 31, 2013 next to French Ambassador to Cameroon Christine Robichon as he arrives at the French ambassador's residence in Yaounde after being freed following a six-week ordeal.
A Catholic priest kidnapped in northern Cameroon by Islamist militants has been freed. The Reverend Georges Vandenbeusch, a French citizen, was abducted nearly seven weeks ago. A Cameroon military aircraft flew him Tuesday from the town of Maroua to Cameroon's capital, Yaounde.

Vandenbeusch looked neat and healthy in his white t-shirt as he stepped off a Cameroon army plane. He told reporters that members of the Nigerian Islamist sect Boko Haram kept him isolated and deprived of information during his captivity.

“It was terrible," the priest said. "Seven weeks in one spot, doing nothing. No books to read, nobody to talk to, and no radio. Terrible.”

Vandenbeusche says the past seven weeks were a time of confusion and uncertainty for him. He expressed gratitude to God and to authorities in Cameroon, Nigeria and France for negotiating his freedom with members of Boko Haram

“I want to see my bishop," Vandenbeusch said. "I want to see people who are dear to me. I do not know what to do. I will wait and reflect on my future, I do not know what to say.”

Christians and Muslims alike organized an ecumenical service of thanksgiving in Maroua, and Bishop Philips Stephens said the local community was happy the 42-year-old priest was released unharmed.

“It is good news and joy for all of us in our diocese," Stephens said. "We have prayed for him together, Muslims and Christians.”

French President Francois Hollande thanked Cameroon and Nigeria for helping win Vandenbeusch's freedom. The priest was kidnapped at his home on Nov. 13 in the far north of Cameroon, about 30 kilometers from the border with Nigeria.

French officials say they had urged the cleric to leave the area near the Nigerian border for his own security, but that Vandenbeusch decided to remain in the remote area to continue his missionary work.

It is believed that a ransom was paid for the priest to be freed, but no details have been made public.

Nearly one year ago Islamist militants from neighboring Nigeria abducted seven French citizens, including four children, in northern Cameroon. The group abducted in February was freed later.