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Bishop Calls for UN Action on Zimbabwe

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Anglican Church, has appealed to the United Nations to intervene to put a stop to alleged violence and what appears to be a sustained campaign against the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe. Tendai Maphosa has more in this report from VOA's London News Center.

A statement from Lambeth Palace, Archbishop Rowan Williams' official residence, says he and the Archbishop of Cape Town made the appeal to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.

The statement says the violence escalated on May 18 when Sunday services were disrupted and worshippers beaten or prevented from attending church by security and police force attacks on churches across the diocese of Harare.

Lambeth Palace's spokesman, David Peck, explained that its members are being targeted by the government of President Robert Mugabe because of the dismissal of the former bishop of Harare.

"There was a bishop before the current one who is a long-time Mugabe and ZANU-PF party henchman who was deposed and excommunicated and at some level this is a combination of revenge and that anyone who is not entirely supportive of the Mugabe government is deemed an enemy of the state," Peck said.

The former bishop, Nolbert Kunonga, has resisted his removal and denied his church appointed successor, Bishop Sebastian Bakare, access to the Anglican cathedral in Harare. He has also refused to let go of church property in his possession.

Peck says though the church has obtained court orders to have him vacate church premises and surrender its property, he has ignored them with the support of the authorities.

Kunonga has accused Bishop Bakare of being an MDC supporter working with the British government to bring about regime change in Zimbabwe, a charge denied by the bishop.

The church's e-newsletter, the Church Times, reported Thursday that all Anglican churches in Harare have now been barred to all except the handful of "worshippers" who support the excommunicated Kunonga.

The archbishop's statement goes beyond calling attention to his church's followers and condemns the post election violence which has seen supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change assaulted and murdered by Mr. Mugabe's supporters. Peck says the UN and the Southern African Development Community need to act now.

"It's an urgently required situation because if we are going to have a presidential runoff then there needs to be something other than this mass political violence and intimidation that is rampant across the country," Peck said.

Archbishop Williams' statement is the latest call by Anglican leaders for the international community to adopt a more robust approach towards Zimbabwe. The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, last year cut up his clerical collar live on BBC television saying he would not wear one until Mr. Mugabe leaves office. Last month he issued a joint statement with Archbishop Williams calling on Zimbabwe's neighbors to act to stop a "spiral of communal violence."