Visa for peace studies denied


THE Department of Justice has refused a Rwandan student a visa to study peace and conflict resolution at the newly established European Peace University in Co Leitrim.

The student, a Hutu who fled his native country to escape the killings there two years ago, aimed to spend three months at the college completing a master's degree in peace and conflict studies.

The university said the Department rejected his application because it considered there was a high risk that he would try to stay in Ireland long-term. By coincidence, the refusal came on the same day as a visit to Dublin yesterday by the EU's special envoy to Burundi and Rwanda, Mr Aldo Ajello. After meeting Mr Ajello, the Tanaiste, Mr Spring, expressed "deep concern" that the situation in Burundi should not be allowed to descend into all-out war.

The student, Mr Ladislas Bizimana, has been in Ireland before, having attended the inauguration of the university by Mr Albert Reynolds last April. The director of the EPU, Ms, Ruth Kenny-Walsh, said he had not had any difficulty obtaining visas to study at the university's other centres in Austria and Spain.

Ms Kenny-Walsh described the decision, which is being appealed, as "ironic and insulting". She pointed out that Mr Bizimana's family still lives in Rwanda.

A second student, from Cuba, has also experienced difficulty obtaining a visa. Most of the overseas students in the school's first intake of 25 have been granted short-term visas. Their countries of origin include Uganda, India, Nicaragua, Canada, Ethiopia and Russia.

A spokeswoman for the Department declined to comment on individual cases. However, it is understood that an appeal has been lodged by Mr Bizimana, while the Department is still considering the visa application from the Cuban student.

The EPU is based in Dromahair. It is run as a charitable trust, funded by tuition fees paid by Western students as well as grant support from the Leitrim county enterprise board and the EU.

The university last night held an opening ceremony attended by Mr Andras Biro, winner of the 1995 Alternative Nobel Prize, and Mr Hakan Wiberg, director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Research in Copenhagen and president of the European Peace Research Association.

The somewhat grand title of European Peace University has prompted wry comments about Dromahair becoming "the Oxbridge of Leitrim." Locals, however, say it may be the only university village in the world.