No fewer than 40 suspected members of the Boko Haram sect were yesterday killed in a clash with Cameroonian troops in the far northern part of the country, a state radio in that country has said.
This report came shortly after the release of two Italian priests and a Canadian Nun suspected to have been held by Boko Haram for some time.
A Cameroonian presidency source confirmed the clashes, which took place west of the town of Kousseri, in the region bordering Nigeria and Chad. Cameroon, which has been criticised by Nigeria for not doing enough to fight Boko Haram, deployed some 1,000 troops to the far north late last week as it steps up the fight against the militants.
Meanwhile, the two Italian priests and the Canadian Nun kidnapped in northern Cameroon nearly two months ago by suspected Boko Haram gunmen were released Saturday night. They were shown smiling and apparently in good health as they arrived in the capital.
Giampaolo Marta and Gianantonio Allegri, missionaries from the diocese of Vicenza in northeast Italy, and Canadian Gilberte Bissiere were seized on the night of April 4 from the parish of Maroua, close to the border with Nigeria.
There has been no claim of responsibility for their kidnapping but Cameroonian officials have pointed the finger at Boko Haram, which has become active in a region that it had for some time used as a logistical base.
Cameroonian television showed images of the priests and the nun arriving at Yaoundé airport yesterday in the company of heavily armed forces in that country.
The Cameroonian presidency said the captives had been “handed over last night (Saturday night) to Cameroonian authorities”, and thanked those who had worked for their release. Authorities declined to give further details of the release, or to say whether any deal had been done to secure it.
The clerics, looking tired but smiling, were greeted by the ambassadors of Italy and Canada, local church authorities and an envoy sent by Pope Francis, the state television said.
They were taken to their respective embassies and were expected to meet Cameroonian President, Paul Biya, later yesterday, officials said.
In Rome, Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said the pope had been informed immediately of the release, which “fills us with joy”.
The priests had been working on improving water supplies and fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS in the impoverished region, as well as their religious duties, according to their diocesan website.
One of the priests had said in a letter to his diocese – posted on its website – that local authorities had advised him to travel with a police escort due to the deteriorating security situation in northern Cameroon