West & Central Africa

Controversy continues over cause of bishop’s death

Drowning is the most probable cause of the suspicious death of Bishop Jean–Marie-Benoît Balla of Bafia, according to the Attorney General of Cameroon, Jean Fils Ntamack. His intervention follows some controversy and suspicion over the Bishop’s death which was first reported as ‘sucide. The Bishop’s body was found on June 2 some 80km from Yaoundé, the state capital.
Initial autopsies by “local medical colleges” concluded that the Bishop was murdered. The autopsies said the body carried marks showing sign of torture. The Bishops in Cameroon, based on the initial autopsy report, declared that Bishop Balla was murdered backing the claim with a catalogue of other clergy that had been killed in Cameroon in the past.

The Cameroon government said: “After an in-depth examination, no trace of violence was found on the body of the deceased.” The report on which this statement was based was carried out by forensic pathologists, Michael Tsokos, director of the Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences in Berlin, and Mark Mulder, coordinator of the Disaster Victim Identification Unit at Interpol.

The government report has deepened the mystery behind the death of the Bishop and has sharpened mistrust between the Catholic bishops of Cameroon and the government. The National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon, on June 13th, said Bishop Jean-Marie-Benoît Balla was “brutally assassinated” by “obscure and diabolical forces” against the Catholic Church. They insisted that “light be shone upon the circumstances and motives of the assassination of Bishop Jean-Marie-Benoît Bala so that the culprits can be identified by name and brought to justice and judged according
to the law”.

The Bishops called on the government to “assume its responsibility for protecting human lives, especially those of ecclesiastical authorities.”
Security agencies, however said investigations will continue “in order to determine the exact circumstances of this tragedy” and will publish its conclusions “at the appropriate time”.