Burundians Told To Stop Killing

News and Press Release
Originally published
GITEGA, Burundi (AP) -- A special Vatican envoy presided over a memorial service for a slain bishop Tuesday and urged Burundians to stop the massacres that have claimed at least 150,000 lives since 1993.

''To you politicians, members of different political parties, soldiers, armed groups: In the name of God, stop the massacres in Burundi. Stop the killing,'' Cardinal Jozef Tomko pleaded in his homily for the prelate of Burundi, Archbishop Joachim Ruhuna.

''Your responsibility is great. Do you want peace now or death forever?'' he asked.

Cardinal Tomko praised Ruhuna as a peacemaker in a country of extremist-inspired killing.

Ruhuna's car was ambushed Sept. 9 in central Burundi, 12 miles north of Gitega, Burundi's second largest city. One nun was killed in the attack, and Ruhuna and another nun are still missing and presumed dead.

Witnesses said the archbishop was killed in the initial spray of gunfire and his body was whisked away by the killers.

More than 2,000 people attended the service Tuesday in the national cathedral, including Burundi's military ruler, Maj. Pierre Buyoya.

Burundi's Roman Catholic church has been trying to negotiate an end to the ethnic violence that flared in 1993 when Burundi's first democratically elected president, a Hutu, took power but was assassinated four months later by Tutsi paratroopers.

Hutus make up 85 percent of Burundi's 5.6 million population, but Tutsis, who account for only 14 percent, have traditionally held power.

''Each person, each cultural group has a right to exist,'' Tomko said. ''No ethnic group can have for itself the sole privilege of power.''

Hutus and Tutsis sat together during the service while members of Buyoya's presidential guard took positions throughout the chapel. Buyoya, who took power in a July 25 coup he said was necessary to stop the killing, took communion from Tomko. The two men were meeting privately afterwards.

In front of the altar on a table were a photograph of Ruhuna and his bishop's miter, the traditional peaked headdress, found at the ambush scene.

Most observers say the identity of those who attacked Ruhuna, a Tutsi, will probably never be known. While Burundian officials insist he was killed by Hutu rebels, many Hutus believe he was killed by Tutsi extremists because of his outspoken criticism of extremists on all sides.

Tomko said Pope John Paul II expressed profound sadness at Ruhuna's death and that the loss was felt by the entire church. Tomko said he would remain in Burundi until Friday to investigate how the church can help stop the violence.

Church sources say the Roman Catholic church is trying to arrange peace talks between Buyoya's government and the main Hutu rebel group, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy, but progress has been slow.

Eight African nations imposed trade and travel sanctions on Burundi last month after the coup. They are demanding that Buyoya restore the constitution and agree to unconditional talks with the rebels before sanctions will be lifted.

On Tuesday, the Tanzanian Foreign Ministry said Buyoya's announcement last week that he was restoring parliament and political parties was ''far from satisfactory.''

=A9 Copyright 1996 The Associated Press