Thursday, 12 February 2004

Questions (6, 7)

Michael Ring

Question:

6 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has made contact with the Government in Burundi following the murder of Archbishop Michael Courtney in December 2003; if he will report on the political situation in Burundi; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4321/04]

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Jack Wall

Question:

24 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the representations which have been made to the authorities in Burundi regarding the murder of Archbishop Michael Courtney; the assurances which have been received that efforts will be made to bring those responsible to justice; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4208/04]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 24 together.

There has been a series of contacts between the Government and the Burundian Government following the tragic and horrific murder of Archbishop Michael Courtney in Burundi on 29 December last. Earlier this week, I met with the Burundian Foreign Minister, Mr. Sinunguruza, who travelled to Ireland in order to present the results of his Government's official investigation into the murder of Archbishop Courtney. This meeting followed an earlier meeting in Brussels on 13 January 2004 between my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, and the President of Burundi, where the murder of Archbishop Courtney was discussed and the Burundian President offered to share information on its investigation with the Government.

I appreciate the urgent and speedy manner in which the Burundian Government has carried out its investigation into the nuncio's murder and its willingness to make available to us the results of its investigation. I also understand that the Holy See, of whom the late archbishop was such a dedicated servant, has also received the same information from the Burundian authorities. Deputies will be aware that following the investigation carried out in Burundi, an individual is in custody on suspicion of possible involvement in the ambush which resulted in Archbishop Courtney's murder, and that legal proceedings are now pending.

From my contacts with the Burundian authorities, there can be no doubt about the deep esteem in which the late nuncio was held by the Burundian people and the very real sense of loss which continues to exist following his murder. These sentiments are also shared here in Ireland and I was very pleased during my meeting with the Foreign Minister to announce that the Government intends instituting a series of peace fellowships to enable Burundian students to come to study in Ireland, in tribute to the memory of Archbishop Courtney.

If any small consolation can be derived from the tragic events of 29 December, it is that the nuncio's murder does appear to have provided a renewed impetus to the efforts to achieve a final, comprehensive peace agreement within Burundi for which he personally had worked tirelessly. In my discussions with Foreign Minister Sinunguruza, I made clear that the European Union very much welcomes the recent progress in the Burundian peace process, including the opening of negotiations between President Ndayizeye and the FNL, the last group opposing the peace process by force. I also reassured him that the EU would continue its constructive engagement in support of the peace efforts in Burundi, including through the efforts of its special representative, Mr. Ajello.

As Ireland holds the EU Presidency, we stand ready to extend any practical assistance we can to ensure the current efforts are successful. In this regard, the Government has recently decided to make a contribution of €500,000 available in support of the African Union-led AMIB peacekeeping force in Burundi, as a practical demonstration of our commitment to assist the peace process in Burundi.

I pay tribute to Archbishop Courtney's contribution to the peace process in Burundi and his selfless dedication to others throughout his life. It is fitting that his memory be honoured and I join with the Minister in acknowledging that.

Suspicion for the murder falls on the National Liberation Front, the FNL, according to all reports. Is the Minister satisfied that this is the correct avenue of investigation? Are other avenues being investigated? One reads of 11 years of assassination in this sad region. In the context of the resources of the Minister and of the Holy See, which is well connected in the region, are there other suspicions in regard to the murder of Archbishop Courtney?

What steps are being taken by the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council to advance the peace process in Burundi?

We have, at the request of the UN Secretary General, contributed money towards the peace process in the context of the efforts which continue to be made in Burundi. We continue to monitor that situation and to provide all the support we can as holders of the European Union Presidency. The matter is being dealt with by the African Union and is one of the main successes among initiatives by Africans to solve the problems there.

Nelson Mandela was very much involved in trying to broker a peace between the parties and has done much since the Arusha accords were signed. I discussed this matter in some detail with Prime Minister Mbeki when I met him in South Africa recently. It is our intention during our Presidency to work with the newly established African Union to assist it in trying to bring about solutions to problems in Burundi, Sudan and elsewhere.

With regard to the investigation, we keep in close contact with the Holy See and the Papal Nuncio here, and they are anxious that we allow the inquiry to continue. Recent arrests have been made and the identities of four other suspects are known and their apprehension is sought at this stage.

The Burundians have a full understanding of what happened on the occasion in question. Obviously, there is sensitivity that we do not do anything which would jeopardise the peace process but that is not in any way to suggest that there is not a full, vigorous and robust investigation taking place in regard to the murder of Archbishop Courtney. The Burundian Government, in its recent meeting with me, suggested it is doing all it can in that regard, and the Burundian public prosecutor was among the visiting party. They are trying to apprehend four known suspects in addition to the one already arrested, and are satisfied that they are FNL personnel.

Archbishop Courtney's death was an incredible loss of an enormously talented diplomat of the Church. He was wise and experienced in conflict zones and it is very important that his example and contribution are not lost.

I agree totally with the Deputy.