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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 December, 2003, 12:49 GMT
Burundi rebels threaten Bishop
Monsignor Courtney lying in state in Burundi
Monsignor Courtney had urged the rebel to give up their weapons
Burundi's rebels have ordered the most senior Catholic churchman in the country to leave within 30 days.

Archbishop Simon Ntamwana accused the National Liberation Forces (FNL) of killing the Vatican's ambassador to Burundi on Monday.

Michael Courtney, 58, from Ireland, was shot three times in an FNL stronghold, but the rebels deny responsibility.

Some 1,500 people attended a funeral service for him on Wednesday, before his body is flown back to Ireland.


"We ask the Catholic Church in Rome to find another host country for Simon Ntamwana in the coming days," FNL spokesman Pasteur Habimana told AFP news agency.

"We swear solemnly to the people of Burundi and the Church that we did not organise the ambush against the Vatican ambassador," he said.

He had played a key role in persuading other rebel groups to join the peace process and had urged the FNL to follow suit.

On Tuesday, Monsignor Courtney's sister had said that he had cancelled his usual post-Christmas break because he was optimistic about the peace process and wanted to help.

The Vatican has expressed "deep sorrow" at the diplomat's death, describing him as "a faithful and generous servant of the Church."

Thabo Mbeki, president of South Africa, which has played a key role in the peace process, also expressed his "outrage and condemnation at the senseless murder of Monsignor Michael Courtney".

Burundi President Domitien Ndayizeye, speaking from the hospital where Monsignor Courtney died, vowed to bring those responsible to justice.

'Peace worker'

The Missionary Service News Agency (Misna) in Rome said that Monsignor Courtney had been travelling by car with three other people when their vehicle was sprayed with gunfire in Minago, Bururi province.

Undated photo of Monsignor Michael Courtney and Pope John Paul ll
The Vatican expressed dismay at the monsignor's death
The other occupants escaped unharmed or with light injuries.

Mariano Benni of Misna told CNN that several sources had said the killing was an accident.

Monsignor Courtney had served as ambassador to Burundi since 2000.

Father Claudio Marano, a missionary in Burundi, told Vatican Radio that he had met all the various groups several times and the entire government.

"He was working a lot in favour of peace and reconciliation in Burundi," Father Marano said.

Some 300,000 people have been killed in Burundi's decade-old civil war, in which rebels of the majority Hutu group are fighting to end dominance of the Tutsi minority.

Papal envoy shot dead in Burundi
29 Dec 03  |  Africa
First talks for Burundi rebels
01 Dec 03  |  Africa
Q&A: Burundi's moves to peace
25 Nov 03  |  Africa
Country profile: Burundi
16 Nov 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Burundi
08 Dec 03  |  Country profiles

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