Opposition leaders in Zimbabwe have welcomed an African Union document criticizing the human rights record of the Robert Mugabe government.

The report, by the African Union's Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, was compiled following a visit to Harare in June 2002, nearly three months after violent and disputed elections gave President Robert Mugabe six more years in power.

It described Zimbabwe as a deeply-divided society, suffering from police abuses, a compromised judicial system, and a stifled media. The report was a marked departure from the previous African Union position of refraining from any criticism of a fellow African.

As African leaders gathered for the AU summit in Addis Ababa, the Zimbabwean foreign minister, Stan Mudenge, denounced the report and said it was prepared by what he called "Blair's messengers." British Prime Minister Tony Blair is a longtime critic of the Zimbabwe government.

In Harare, however, government spokesmen declined to comment on the report, saying they had not yet seen it.

Paul Themba Nyathi, spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said Monday he welcomed the report as an encouraging sign from Africa. He said it was the most powerful African voice so far to have condemned Zimbabwe's human rights record.

Because it was an African verdict, he said, Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF Party could not blame it on distant white governments.

Arnold Tsunga, Director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, also welcomed the report. He said although it had taken long to be presented, the African Union had at last found the courage to confront the Zimbabwe government's record.

He said the report confirmed what many Zimbabwean rights activists had long said, that the abuses had nothing to do with race or land reform or black empowerment. He said Zimbabwe had signed international and African human rights conventions which it did not respect.

The AU's human rights commission which produced the report was headed by prominent South African academic Barney Pityana. During its visit to Zimbabwe, the commission took evidence from a broad section of Zimbababweans including government representatives.