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Catholic church insist Bishop Bala ‘was brutally assassinated’

Archbishop Samuel Kleda of Douala, President of the National Bishops Conference of Cameroon has reaffirmed that Bishop Jean-Marie Benoît Bala…

Archbishop Samuel Kleda of Douala, President of the National Bishops Conference of Cameroon has reaffirmed that Bishop Jean-Marie Benoît Bala of Bafia did not drown himself but “was brutally assassinated.”

According to La Croix International, the archbishop, made the statement at a press conference on Saturday July 7 held prior to the Plenary Assembly of the Association of Episcopal Conferences of the Region of Central Africa.

Bishop Bala went missing on the night of May 30 – 31. His empty car was found on a bridge the next day.

On the right front seat were his personal documents, including his identity card and a note scribbled on a piece of paper that bore his letterhead. It said: “I am in the water.”

His body was found later on June 2 in a river, around 80 km from Yaoundé, the capital.

The statement by Catholic bishops in Cameroon comes barely three days after the Attorney General released a statement at the Central Court of Appeal on July 4 asserting that “drowning is the most probable cause of death of the bishop”.

No traces of violence

According to the Cameroon court, this conclusion was reached by an Interpol-commissioned team of doctors who examined the body at the end of June.

Two German doctors, 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, arrived in Cameroon on June 29 to conduct an autopsy of the body.

“After an in depth examination, no trace of violence was found on the body of the deceased,” the doctors found, concluding that the most probable cause of death was drowning.

These conclusions were strongly contested by the Cameroon Church, which again rejected the theory of suicide on Saturday.

However, Archbishop Kleda did not mention whether the Catholic authorities are now in possession of the bishop’s body, as the Attorney General stated.

Mistrust between the government and the Catholic Church

Some observers have interpreted the court’s conclusion as a sign of the government’s mistrust of the Catholic Church.

“The Church finds itself in an unprecedented situation,” says an expert on the Cameroonian bishops.

“The bishops must have had conclusive evidence to believe that Bishop Bala was brutally assassinated,” he continues. “What will they do now?”

Certain relatives of the bishop now suspect the authorities may have sent a body other than the bishop’s for the Interpol doctors to analyze.

The National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon had previously issued a communiqué on June 13 stating that Bishop Jean-Marie Benoît Bala had been “brutally assassinated”, and accusing “obscure and diabolical forces” of conspiring against the Catholic Church.

In the statement issued two weeks after Bishop Bala’s body was found under the Ebebda bridge on the Sanaga River, Archbishop Kleda referred to “another death, and one too many”.

The Cameroon courts will continue the investigation “in order to determine the exact circumstances of this tragedy” and will publish its conclusions “at the appropriate time”.

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