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Zimbabwe Seeks World Council of Churches' Cooperation - 2001-08-27

In Zimbabwe, a senior official of the World Council of Churches says Monday the Harare government is seeking the council's help in persuading Britain to pay for the takeover of white-owned commercial farms. The council does not, at this point, seem willing to help.

The general secretary of the council, Konrad Raiser, says the requests were made on two separate occasions earlier this year by top officials of the Zimbabwe government, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Labor Minister July Moyo.

Speaking to journalists at the end of a two-day visit to Harare, Mr. Raiser said the council is not going to do anything because President Robert Mugabe's government refuses to meet with officials of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, which represents the world body in Zimbabwe.

The council is an international alliance of Christian churches throughout the world. "We will not," Mr. Raiser said, "be offering any assistance as long as the government refuses to meet the Zimbabwe council and enter into dialogue." Mr. Raiser said he had also tried, unsuccessfully, to meet with President Mugabe.

The general secretary's comments follow a statement issued over the weekend by the Zimbabwe Council. The statement strongly criticized President Mugabe for failing to stop what it called "the monster of political violence." In its statement, the council also condemned the power being wielded by former guerilla fighters and what it termed "the perception that they are beyond the law."

The Zimbabwe government says it has plans to seize more than 5,000 farms without compensation. The seized farms, it says, will be used for the resettlement of poor people. Mr. Mugabe has accused Britain of reneging on promises to pay for land resettlement, a charge that Britain has consistently denied. Britain has stopped all assistance to the country over what it says is disregard for the rule of law and human rights abuses.

Militant groups led by former guerillas have invaded more than 2,000 commercial farms. So far the invasions have resulted in the deaths of 15 farmers and workers, as well as injuries to thousands.