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From .......... Catholic International
AFRICA - BURUNDI
Yet another Hutu Catholic priest has been murdered by Tutsi extremists in Burundi, the eighth Hutu cleric killed in recent months amid escalating violence in the central African nation. Father Michel Sinankwa, director of the Development Office of the diocese of Bujumbura, was shot and killed by three youths Aug. 21, according to the Brussels-based Catholic information agency BIA/ANB. Sinankwa also served as the parish priest of Ngagara, a district of Bujumbura, Burundi's capital.
According to the Catholic news agency, Sinankwa had left his parish church at about 7:15 a.m. after celebrating Mass. He was heading to the town center when three youths stopped him and asked him for a ride. As soon as the priest opened the car door, the youths shot Sinankwa three times in the chest.
For 15 years, Sinankwa had been director of the Institute of the Catechetical Center of Mutumba, in the Bujumbura diocese. He was also known to be the personal adviser to Bishop Simon Ntamwana of Bujumbura. "Despite the dangers and repeated threats, Father Sinankwa had courageously remained in his parish which had been systematically cleansed of its Hutu population since the assassination of [Burundi] President Melchior Ndadaye in October 1993," said Joseph Ntamahungiro, an editor at the Brussels-based Christian publication 'Dialogue.'
Attacks on clergy in Burundi have been on the increase amid widespread ethnic violence which parallels the ongoing crisis in neighboring Rwanda. According to sources, many of the targeted clerics - including Sinankwa - were on a ''blacklist" of Burundi priests slated to be assassinated. Another cleric in Bujumbura remains under threat. Since mid August, an anonymous letter threatening Bishop Berchmans Nterere of Bujumbura has been circulating throughout the capital city. On Aug. 19, a grenade was thrown at the Hutu bishop's car while he was visiting a refugee camp housing displaced Tutsis. Nterere escaped the attack unharmed, but a mother and child were seriously injured in the explosion.
Sources said the situation in Burundi is becoming increasingly tense. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the past two years in tribal fighting. The motives behind the attacks on the clergymen - most of whom have been Catholic priests - are not clear. It is also not known who is orchestrating the murders or who has drawn up the alleged hit list. The international community has expressed shock at the upsurge in tribal killings in Burundi, but has so far been unsuccessful in bringing an end to the violence.
The former Belgian colony has experienced periodic bursts of ethnic bloodshed, if on a smaller scale than the violence in Rwanda. The majority Hutu and minority Tutsi communities in both countries have clashed on and off for decades. Christians in political and Church leadership have been accused of complicity in Rwanda's genocide last year. It is not clear what role, if any, the Catholic-dominated Burundi Christian community has played in that nation's continuing ethnic crisis.
News Network International, September 9, 1995
As Rwandans struggle to rebuild their lives a year after massive ethnic bloodletting swept the tiny central African country, the nation's Christian Churches remain divided and embittered over a leadership crisis which threatens to implicate several clergymen in crimes against humanity. In what comes as a severe blow to the already devastated Christian communities, several Roman Catholic and Protestant Church leaders have been accused of active and passive participation in the genocide. "I personally know a number of pastors who are in jail today because there are witnesses accusing them before the law," said Antoine Rutayisire, a social worker in Kigali, Rwanda's capital.
Exact numbers of Church leaders under suspicion of involvement in the killings are difficult to obtain due to fragmented and sometimes contradictory reports. The French magazine Golias, which is published by a group of Catholics highly critical of the Pope, recently released a list of 19 Catholic priests, four nuns, and four Protestant pastors accused of "joining assassins" involved in the massacres. However, on Aug. 8, Human Rights Watch/Africa claimed that one cleric on the list, retired Bishop Andre Sibomana of Kibungo, was falsely accused. The human rights group urged Golias to print a retraction clearing Sibomana's name. Some Catholic leaders have disputed other names on the list as well.
Among the most prominent and controversial cases is that of exiled Rwandan Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka who was briefly detained in Nimes, France, on charges of alleged complicity in the killings. Munyeshyaka has been charged with "genocide, torture, ill-treatment, and degrading and inhuman activities." The priest has defended his innocence in recent press conferences and said he was ready to face his accusers in a court of law. Several Catholics have spoken out in defense of the priest.
When Kigali was captured by the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front July 4, 1994, Munyeshyaka fled to Goma, Zaire. In October, French Catholic leaders helped him get a visa to France. Scores of Church leaders took refuge in neighboring countries, while casualties were high among those who stayed behind to help their congregations and parishes. According to reports from the Vatican, some 250 Catholic priests, nuns, and other ethnic Tutsi and Hutu religious workers were killed between April and July last year.
Christian sources in Kigali said accusations of complicity in the massacres levelled at Church leaders have put a strain on the rest of the clergy active in the country. "Pastors, especially those who were here in Rwanda before the war, are in a real fix," said Christian youth worker Daniel Kayonga. "If they preach forgiveness and reconciliation, they are accused of siding with those in exile," Kayonga said from Kigali. "At times they can be asked, 'We never heard you preach justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation before the war; why are you doing so now?' It is very difficult and many of them just ignore the subject," he added.
The few pastors from the prewar churches who have remained in the country face new challenges of helping bring about national reconciliation within the new social order, sources said, adding that the churches in the past did not speak out strongly against social injustice. "The churches have people who have been involved in the genocide and people who struggled through the tragedy to stand firm and show the Christian witness," said Rev. Emmanuel Nkusi, secretary-general of the Protestant Council of Churches. "But church leaders have to justify why they are there. As a response to this pressure, many are now concentrating on satisfying the material needs of widows, orphans, the homeless, and the disabled. It will take a long time for church leaders to balance out the equation without compromising the preaching of the Word," he said.
Fear and suspicion of authorities are also hindering the work of the clergy. "I think there is an element of fear in the church leadership," asserted Rev. Matious Mpewenayo, a Protestant. "They fear that the repressed government leadership in exile may come back, so they don't want to say much about the past." Mpewenayo said pastors also fear that the present government regards the clergy as "enemies of the status quo." In trying to be sensitive, he continued, pastors are now "compromising the truth of the Gospel."
Antagonism between leaders who have returned from exile and those who had remained in Rwanda is also harming the unity of the churches. The returnees consider those who remained to be ineffective, while those who stayed believe the other group does not fully understand the situation in the country, Christian sources said. "Suspicion and mistrust within church leadership circles are real. Someone just comes and says he is a pastor, but he could well be a government security agent spying on what we are saying and doing as the Church," said a Methodist pastor who asked not to be identified. "The fear to speak out even against what the new government does wrong is widespread," he added.
News Network International, August 28, 1995
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