Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe has sent a rare message of friendship to the nation's leading opposition party.

During a speech Wednesday at the funeral of Vice President Simon Muzenda, Mr. Mugabe publicly acknowledged and welcomed members of the Movement for Democratic Change. The vice president died on Saturday at the age of 80.

In remarks to thousands of mourners, President Mugabe said, "to our friends from the MDC who are here, we say to them, you are welcome. You are Zimbabweans. We are sons of the soil together."

In the past, Mr. Mugabe has repeatedly referred to the opposition as puppets of Britain, the nation's former colonial ruler. Britain has sharply condemned elections that returned Mugabe to power, as well as his controversial land reform policy.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is currently on trial on charges of plotting to assassinate Mr. Mugabe ahead of last year's elections, the results of which the MDC is challenging in court. If convicted, Mr. Tsvangirai faces the death penalty.