BURURI, Burundi, OCT. 20, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The Diocese of Bururi was shaken when hearing the news of the assassination Monday of an episcopal vicar, Father Gerard Nzeyimana.
The apostolic nunciature in the capital, Bujumbura, and local sources have confirmed the murder to the Missionary Service News Agency (Misna).
Father Nzeyimana, 65, a Tutsi, was well known for his denunciation of the perpetrators of violence against the population over the past 11 years of civil war in this central African country.
It marked the second time in less than a year that a high-ranking Church official was murdered in Burundi.
In late December the apostolic nuncio, Irish-born Archbishop Michael Courtney, 58, was killed in an ambush on the outskirts of Bujumbura. The crime remains unresolved. The prelate had been a great promoter of peace in the war-torn country.
According to reports, on Monday afternoon gunmen stopped Father Nzeyimana’s vehicle on the outskirts of Nyanza-lac, in southern Burundi. The priest was returning from Bujumbura.
The passengers — three nuns and a girl, in addition to the priest — were made to get out and were subsequently robbed. “They all handed over their money and their few possessions,” Misna reported.
After the robbery, the nuns and the girl were beaten and allowed to go. The priest was made to follow the gunmen. He was then killed, shot in the head “probably at close range,” the news agency said.
Government troops reportedly arrived on the scene. Two were allegedly hurt during brief fighting with the assailants.
“We cannot understand why he was killed: he handed over all that the assailants asked for, yet they shot him dead,” said Monsignor Hermenegilde Ndoricimpa, vicar general of the Bururi Diocese.
“Everyone in the Makamba area, where Father Nzeyimana was episcopal vicar, is shaken by the news. He has always been committed to peace, and no one can explain why he was killed in this way, for no apparent reason,” added Monsignor Ndoricimpa, who is covering for Bishop Bernard Bududira while the latter is away for health reasons.
The episcopal vicar also confirmed that the authorities have been asked “to carry out an inquiry and shed light on Father Gerard’s death.”
A missionary in the area, who asked to remain anonymous, said that Father Nzeyimana “was a key figure in the Burundian Church. He was respected for his commitment to young people and for his courage in speaking out in favor of the victims of the violence of this war.”
The same source pointed out that “the news has gone almost unnoticed: just a few local radio stations reported it, without giving much detail.” Father Nzeyimana’s funeral was to be held today.
The conflict has left at least 300,000 dead and 1 million displaced out of a total population of 6 million. Since its independence in 1993, Burundi has endured confrontations between the dominant Tutsi ethnic minority and the Hutu majority.
A fragile peace process is under way. About 70% of the Burundian population lives under the poverty line.