Tributes for papal nuncio killed in ambush

Tributes have been pouring in for Michael Courtney, the apostolic nuncio to Burundi who was killed on Monday in an ambush south of the capital, Bujumbura.

Pope John Paul II, in a telegram to the president of the Bishops' Conference of Burundi, Archbishop Simon Ntamwana, said he was "deeply saddened by the painful news", the Catholic news agency Misna reported on Tuesday.

Speaking in Bujumbura on Tuesday, the apostolic nuncio to Uganda, Archbishop Christophe Pierre said the Catholic church would continue its contribution to the peace process.

"The killing of Courtney created an extreme sorrow among the Catholic church community, but I don't think relations between the Vatican and Burundi will stop at all; on the contrary, it is an opportunity to make more efforts in favour of peace in this country, as Michael Courtney did," he said.

A funeral mass was to be held for Courtney in Bujumbura on Wednesday morning, before his body was flown back to the Irish Republic for burial. Courtney was born in Nenagh, Ireland, in 1945.

The Irish foreign minister, Brian Cowen, in a statement on Tuesday, said Courtney had worked tirelessly to encourage peace and reconciliation between the main ethnic groups in Burundi.

"The Holy See has lost a fine diplomat. Ireland has lost a brave and distinguished citizen," Cowen said, adding that the Irish government, which takes over the presidency of the European Union on 1 January, would do its best to ensure the EU was mobilised "to bring about a final end to violence" in Burundi.

France on Tuesday condemned the "heinous" assassination of Courtney, while Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel said Belgium was "more resolved than ever to help peace return to Burundi and to assist in the reconstruction of the country".

Condolences were also sent to the Vatican by Central African Republic leader Francois Bozize, according to the state-run Radio Centrafrique.