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I just returned from a visit to Burundi to express the solidarity of the Church in the United States with the nation and people of Burundi, who remain in a state of shock, grief, and mourning following the murder of Archbishop Michael Courtney, Apostolic Nuncio to Burundi, on December 29, 2003. The Archbishop is not the first prelate to be killed in the course of Burundi's 10-year civil war. It has also cost the lives of nearly three hundred thousand people and led to the forced displacement of approximately one million others, who languish in camps for internally displaced persons or are living as refugees in neighboring countries.
We, the Catholic Bishops of the United States, strongly condemn these actions of violence which further divide the country and play into the hands of those who do not want peace to come to the people of Burundi. We urge the Burundian government and the international community to bring to justice those responsible for the death of Archbishop Courtney.
While those people responsible have not yet been found, the Church and people of Burundi will not allow this cowardly act to deter them from their sacred mission – the reuniting of the people of Burundi under conditions of justice, truth, the pursuit of the common good, and the healing of the nation.
There is no alternative to a negotiated peace for the people of Burundi, but this peace must be inclusive and must lead to the breaking of the cycle of violence, hatred, and distrust. Now is the time for the government to maintain dialogue with those armed groups that remain outside the process so that the long night of senseless violence might end. Failure to do this could result in a prolongation of the conflict, an erosion of confidence within the government, and renewed tensions within and among the rebel groups who have joined the government.
We urge the international community, and the United States in particular, to sustain with even greater urgency their support for the peace process and to provide the necessary means so that the government's efforts to demobilize, disarm, and reintegrate rebel forces into Burundian society might take place sooner than later. The United States also should provide strong financial support for the reintegration of refugees and internally displaced persons who are seeking to return home and who will need land, shelter, and protection to ensure that this process is conducted effectively and avoids conditions of increased tension. At the same time, pressure must be put on the government to fulfill its obligations as outlined in the Arusha Accords, particularly with regards to the restructuring of the national army and police force and the broadening of the government to reflect the ethnic diversity present in Burundi; improved security in all regions; and the provision of new economic opportunities for its people. Also critical to prospects for long term peace in Burundi is a strong plan that extends well beyond that of the Arusha Accords.
As the Church and people of Burundi pursue the way of peace and reconciliation, we invite people of good will to support efforts by the Catholic Church and other humanitarian organizations who work daily to promote a culture of justice, truth, and reconciliation. The Catholic Church in the United States pledges to accompany the Catholic Church and people of Burundi in their quest for peace. May these efforts give birth to a new vision, a vision whereby the people of Burundi might once again recognize one another as brothers and sisters united by a common humanity and committed to the pursuit of a lasting peace.
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