Bishop Andrew Nkea, of Mamfe Diocese, Cameroon, has declared that Fr. Cosmas Omboto Ondari, a Mill Hill Kenyan missionary, “was killed by Government Soldiers (Gendarmerie Nationale), who were shooting at random from their passing vehicle,” on Wednesday 21 November, in front of the Church of the Parish of St. Martin of Tours, Kembong, at about 3:00 pm, Bishop Nkea said.
The Mill Hill Missionaries’ website confirmed the Bishop’s claim saying, “Cosmas was standing outside his Church while meeting (with internally displaced persons). At that moment soldiers entered the Church compound at high speed in an army vehicle. As they drove by, they started shooting. At this, the refugees fled into the Church. Cosmas was still outside when he was hit in the thigh and chest. He was taken to a hospital, but on arrival there (was) pronounced dead.”
Conflict broke out in Cameroon, a country of about 25 million people, divided between predominantly French speaking southern region and English speaking northern region. The English speaking region, accusing the government of President Biya of maltreatment and marginalization demanded for independence of the northern region they call Ambazonia. Hundreds of people have been killed in the ongoing fight. Kembong, a village of more than 5000 people, was attacked in December 2017 and many houses were burnt down. The village was almost completely abandoned.
Fr. Ondari and his Parish Priest, Fr. Tiberius Vouni, had decided to go back to Kembong, in April 2018, “in a bid to give hope to the desperate population, many of whom were living in the bushes in horrendous conditions,” so he could be with the people and encourage them. “It was in this context that Fr. Ondari was brutally and recklessly murdered,” Bishop Nkea said.
“I visited Kembong Parish on Thursday 22 November 2018, and I personally counted 21 Bullet holes made on the Church building of Kembong where at the time, the priest, the Catechist and many Christians were carrying out various activities in the Mission compound. The blood of the murdered priest was still clearly seen on the cemented entrance to the Church just at the door. He died right in the house of God, and it is our prayer that the God whom he served so well will welcome him into his eternal kingdom, Nkea said.
Colonel Didier Badjeck of the Defence Ministry denied any government involvement. “The Man of God was not killed by the Cameroon military. Preliminary investigations show that Father Cosmas Ondari was shot by assailants dressed in combat outfit,” Badjeck added that the government will “have the first elements of an inquiry and we shall communicate them as soon as possible.”
The Defense minister, Joseph Beti Assomo, in a statement, blamed the separatist army claiming that “preliminary investigations reveal that the authors of this criminal act did this to discredit the defense and security forces.”
A local source however told AFP that there were “no ‘Amba Boys’ (separatists army) in Kembong” at the time of the murder.”
“The forces of evil are on a rampage against the Church of God, but as Christians, we believe in the promise of Christ that the gates of the underworld will never prevail over the Church. While we mourn with the Mill Hill Family and the Natural family of Fr. Ondari, we trust that he died doing what he had offered his life for,” Bishop Nkea added.
Back in Kenya, Fr. Ondari’s family in Sengera area of Kisii, described him as “very spiritual… fired by the missionary spirit.”
Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called “on armed secessionists groups to refrain from the use of violence. We urge the Government to respect and protect the rights of all, to address the long-standing grievances of the communities in these regions, including through dialogue, to promptly investigate all cases of violations reportedly involving its security and defence forces, and to hold perpetrators responsible.”
Hassan John is West Africa Editor GCN and Priest of the Anglican Diocese of Jos.