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BURUNDI-COURTNEY Dec-14-2006 (1,040 words) xxxi

Nuncio's murder in Burundi was planned from top, says journalist

By Michail Rassool
Catholic News Service

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- A former president and other high-ranking officials in Burundi have been accused of masterminding the December 2003 assassination of the apostolic nuncio to Burundi, reported South Africa's national weekly, The Southern Cross.

Archbishop Michael Courtney, an Irish Vatican diplomat, was ambushed and shot several times 25 miles from the nation's capital, Bujumbura, as he was traveling by car to southern Burundi, an area that was a stronghold of rebels from the National Liberation Forces, who were accused of carrying out the attack.

The archbishop -- whose term as nuncio was about to end when he was killed -- died Dec. 29, 2003, during emergency surgery at a nearby hospital. The National Liberation Forces always denied government allegations that they had carried out the attack, and the rebels blamed government forces for the killing.

The Southern Cross obtained a summary of a 30-page dossier in French by a Burundian investigative journalist currently hiding in southern Africa. The Southern Cross reported the journalist's story Dec. 13.

The journalist, whose name is known to The Southern Cross but was not revealed for safety reasons, said his knowledge of what he believes to be the true circumstances of Archbishop Courtney's death has led directly and indirectly to the deaths of several members of his own family -- his wife, son, father, brother and sister.

The summarized report claimed Archbishop Courtney had reliable information concerning the murder of Dr. Kassy Manlan, the World Health Organization country representative in Burundi. According to the dossier, the doctor from Ivory Coast was assassinated while investigating the alleged embezzlement of European Union funds by Burundi's then-President Pierre Buyoya and his wife.

The dossier said the president had requested the EU funds for the purpose of fighting disease in the country. It said reliable WHO sources in Burundi confirmed Manlan was murdered when he was about to fly to Brussels, where he was expected to discuss the matter with EU officials.

The journalist claimed he had learned Archbishop Courtney was about to travel to Brussels to present the doctor's report, which had landed in his hands, to the European Union and was killed before he could do so.

"I later got confirmation from the office of one of the country's bishops that the apostolic nuncio had just received the (WHO) report," the journalist said. "It was not clear who gave him the report. What is known is that he discussed the matter the day before he was killed with the president of the (Burundian) bishops' conference."

The journalist said he became suspicious about the circumstances of Archbishop Courtney's death after speaking to the chief surgeon who had operated on the prelate. The doctor had observed that the position of the bullet wounds suggested Archbishop Courtney had been shot at close range. The official statement on the death said the car in which the nuncio was traveling did not stop after the shooting took place.

The journalist said Burundian rebels captured him as he was investigating the crime scene. His position as a journalist, he said, saved him from being killed and gave his captors a chance to deny they were involved in the nuncio's killing.

Two days after the journalist was released in January 2004, he received a call from army Capt. Edward Nahayo, his cousin, who was in hiding from the authorities at the time. Nahayo had been part of Buyoya's presidential guard until April 2003 when Buyoya handed over power to his successor, Domitien Ndayizeye.

According to the journalist, Nahayo said he had headed up the team of five that carried out Archbishop Courtney's assassination.

The dossier mentions four other soldiers, all but one of whom were subsequently killed. The journalist believes they were targeted by the secret services for their knowledge of the archbishop's assassination.

The phone call also revealed that meetings to plan the nuncio's killing were allegedly chaired by top-ranking leaders in state intelligence, the president's office and the ruling party, UPRONA.

The journalist said he was preparing a report based on the phone call when he was detained and held in solitary confinement and tortured. During the torture he lost fingers, he added. He said his captors demanded he hand over his investigation files and tell them the whereabouts of Nahayo. The journalist refused both demands.

He said he survived death when press colleagues intervened on his behalf and got him transferred to a state prison on trumped-up charges. Attempts on his life continued until he managed to escape Jan. 24, 2005, and flee the country. The Burundian secret police traced him to Zambia, so he fled to South Africa via Mozambique.

The journalist said he decided not to reveal the names of remaining alleged witnesses because he is hoping they will be prosecuted for their part in the nuncio's assassination.

Now, after the finalization of peace agreements between Burundi's warring Tutsi and Hutu groups and an election that has seen former rebel groups win political power, Buyoyo, the former president, is still politically active and serves as a senator, The Southern Cross reported.

Catholic News Service and The Southern Cross were unable to reach Buyoyo for comment.

Regarding the deaths in his family, the journalist alleged that the authorities shot dead his father, a politically conservative Tutsi, in the family house in March, even after his father denied his son had sent him a copy of an extensive report of his investigations.

In April the journalist's 2-year-old son died from first-degree burns sustained in a fire that occurred, the journalist said, when Burundian authorities set fire to his home in an attempt to burn any possible documents that would implicate key public figures in the nuncio's killing.

He said he learned of his wife's death by suicide in November, because of the strain of long months of harassment from the authorities as well as her son's tragic death.

Six months after the journalist fled the country, gunmen burst into the family home, where his younger brother and sister were having a party. Both siblings were killed after they denied their brother was back in the country and hiding there.

His mother is still alive in Burundi.


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