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Church Leaders Raise Voice Against Rights Abuses in Zimbabwe - 2003-12-22

Several South Africa church leaders have issued a stinging condemnation of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.

The church leaders said they reject attempts to deflect criticism of government abuses in Zimbabwe as racist or stemming from ignorance. They did not mention President Mbeki by name, but earlier this month he used those terms to rebuke those opposed to his handling of the Zimbabwe crises.

The South African clergymen from several churches, including the Anglican Church, the Catholic Church, and the Methodist Church say they have been prompted to speak out by the steady flow of tortured and abused Zimbabweans seeking help and sanctuary at their doors.

Bishop Paul Verryn of the Methodist Church, told VOA that medical experts say the torture is so profound that many victims will never fully recover.

"And when one starts thinking that some of the psychological and emotional sequelae [consequences] according to one of the senior psychiatrists here in Johannesburg, are probably going to be permanent, then one starts realizing that you are dealing with something very serious here," he said.

Bishop Verryn says the clerics decided that if they had continued to be silent, they would have been complicit in the human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.

"The church leaders, having heard the litany of torture, because of our positions as ministers of churches, could no longer keep silent without being regarded as complicit.

The clerics say the abuses are being perpetrated by the Zimbabwean authorities, and they hope their involvement will compel the Zimbabwean government into negotiations and mediation.

Zimbabwe's ruling party and political opposition say they are to begin informal talks Tuesday, aimed at moving toward solving the country's political crisis. The talks were arranged, in part, at the urging of South African President Mbeki.