Zimbabwean bishops speak out for the first time

 The bishops of Zimbabwe have issued a stern pastoral letter condemning political violence in the country. Announced yesterday, on the eve of Press Freedom Day, the letter is being distributed to every Catholic church, school and institution in Zimbabwe this week. The letter does not name President Mugabe or the governing Zanu-PF party but it accuses the holders of power of abusing their fellow human beings. It also criticised militants and self-styled war veterans who have launched a campaign of intimidation against opposition groups and white landowners. The bishops urge the government to uphold the rule of law. They write: "Violence, intimidation and threats are the tools of failed politicians. We must point out to them that they are engaging in an unjust activity." "It is the duty of government to ensure that the nation is not held to ransom by a few. "We urge the government to allow the law enforcement agents to perform their duties without interference so that there is a sense of security in the country." The bishops say that land reform is a pressing issue left over from the colonial era, but the problem must be resolved justly. A Zimbabwean journalist said the bishops' letter is a very dramatic development in a country which is predominantly Christian. In the past the church has been accused of not speaking out against the violence and intimidation in the country. Bishops, priests and religious who have criticised the regime have had their homes vandalised and suffered beatings and death threats.

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