West & Central Africa

Bishops call on government to protect clergy after ‘mystery’ murder

Alarm over the deliberate targeting of Bishops and priests in Cameroon by “forces” wthin the country has led to calls for protection from the government.

This week the Roman Catholic Episcopal Conference of Cameroon bishops raised the alarm, after the recent killing of Bishop Balla whose alleged murder was disguised as a suicide.

Reverend Jervis Kebei Kewi, in said, “We strongly feel that the clergy in Cameroon are particularly persecuted by some obscure and devilish forces.” Jervis, speaking for the catholic bishops in Cameroon said, “We recall with sadness the murder of several other prelates, members of the clergy and consecrated persons whose assassination under similar circumstances has never been explained up to this day,” he said.

The Catholic bishops said those who had spoken against corruption and the public health in the country seemed to have been targeted like Father Armel Djama, rector of the Minor Seminary in same diocese with Bishop Jean Marie Benoit Balla, who was murdered and his body dumped in a river. The other priest was Augustine Ndi, from southwestern Cameroon. Both were found dead in their rooms.

The killing of Bishop Balla continues to stir outrage with many Christians beginning to pressurize the Cameroon president, who is also a catholic for answers to the mysterious deaths of Catholic priests in the country.

A resident in Yaounde, Bennen Buma Gana, said: “We are all worried. We are all troubled. Why are the bishops being killed?”

Between 1988 and 1991, a bishop, six priests, and three nuns were found dead in circumstances that security agencies have either not been able to unravel or are unwilling to make public.

The Cameroon Communication Council stopped reporters looking into the deaths until the completion of investigations. But the unresolved nature of the cases is making speculation inevitable.

Christophe Mbape, in Yaounde, said unless the government publishes results of the investigations, there always will suspicions. A Cameroon lawyer, Claude Ndjono Bikoun, said the law does not compel prosecutors to present their findings and public opinion does not determine how, why, when, and the pace courts or commissions set up to investigate cases should work.

These recent controversies were stirred by the death of Bishop Balla, 59-year-old, who disappeared on May 31 in Bafia, central Cameroon, and his body was later found in the Sanaga river 60 kilometers away from his home. His car was on the bridge above with a note in the car which said, (“Je suis dans l’eau”) “I am in the water.”

An autopsy on the body has revealed foul play. The government has ordered an investigation.

The conference of bishops urged the government, “to assume the noble task of protecting human life.” Because several Catholic priests in Cameroon have been “assassinated in circumstances still not clear today.”