His African kidnap ordeal over, freed French priest Georges Vandenbeusch has flown into Paris and been personally welcomed by Francois Hollande.
France’s president praised the courage and self-sacrifice of the cleric who was seized while working in northern Cameroon where Islamic militants are active.
“We will long remember this day, January 1 2014, and especially Father Georges, as it is a happy day when we got our compatriot back,” Hollande told reporters, standing next to Vandenbeusch on the tarmac of Villacoublay military airport. “He has been held captive for too long but now he is free.”
Held for a month and a half by kidnappers who took him to neighbouring Nigeria, the 42-year-old priest said he suffered from boredom but was not mistreated.
“Those days seemed terribly long,” Vandenbeusch said. “I am thinking about other hostages held for a very long time and those still in captivity. I can now appreciate what they are going through.”
France insists no ransom was paid for the priest’s release – a claim endorsed by Nigerian Islamist sect Boko Haram which said it had freed him out of compassion.
The Nov. 13 kidnapping was one of a series of attacks on French targets in Africa since France launched a military intervention in Mali in January to oust al Qaeda Islamists who had forged links with Boko Haram militants.
Six French nationals continue to be held hostage in Mali and Syria.