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French priest kidnapped in Cameroon set free: French government

PARIS (Reuters) - Georges Vandenbeusch, the French Catholic priest kidnapped in northern Cameroon last month, has been released, the office of President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday.

Hollande thanked Cameroonian and Nigerian authorities for their work in securing his release and highlighted the "personal involvement" of Cameroonian President Paul Biya, according to the brief statement.

The 42-year-old priest had chosen to remain in northern Cameroon, a zone where Nigerian Islamist sect Boko Haram is known to operate, despite the security threat.

His November 13 kidnapping was the latest in a series of attacks on French targets in Africa since France launched a military intervention in Mali in January to oust al Qaeda Islamists there, who had forged links with Boko Haram.

Six French nationals continue to be held hostage in Mali and Syria.

The statement said Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius would travel imminently to the Cameroonian capital Yaounde to bring Vandenbeusch back to France.

Separately, Fabius told RTL radio Vandenbeusch was in good health and that he would collect the priest later on Tuesday.

Asked whether France had paid a ransom, he said that was against its principles, adding: "There are always discussions which are complex and long and which, as it turns out, are not financial discussions."

Hollande has said Paris ended a previous policy of paying ransoms for hostages. But suspicion that it still does so, despite repeated official denials, has been a source of tension with governments such as the United States.

Boko Haram kidnapped a French family of seven on holiday in northern Cameroon in February and released them in April.

A confidential Nigerian government report seen by Reuters said Boko Haram was given the equivalent of $3.15 million by French and Cameroonian negotiators. Hollande denied at the time that a ransom had been paid.

(Reporting by Mark John; Editing by Natalie Huet and James Regan)

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