Rowan Williams hands Robert Mugabe Zimbabwe abuse file

Dr Williams says he discussed a number of concerns with President Mugabe

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Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has met President Robert Mugabe and presented him with a dossier of alleged abuses against Anglicans in Zimbabwe.

Dr Williams told reporters Mr Mugabe had agreed to speak to a rebel bishop accused of inciting violence against Anglicans who do not support him.

Britain's relationship with Zimbabwe and EU sanctions were also discussed.

The archbishop said the Harare meeting was "very candid", with disagreement expressed clearly but peacefully.

Dr Williams, the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, was joined by the archbishops of Central Africa, Southern Africa and Tanzania at the meeting.

Dr Rowan Williams told the BBC's Brian Hungwe in Harare: ''It was never going to be an easy meeting''

In a joint media conference afterwards, the Church leaders said Anglican congregations in Zimbabwe had suffered "serious harassment and violence" at the hands of illicit factions and the police since 2007.

"They've been intimidated, their churches have been closed, properties including schools, clinics and orphanages have been seized," they said in a statement.

"We want strongly and unequivocally to support the efforts of ordinary Anglicans here to worship in peace and to minister - as they have done for so many years - to the urgent spiritual and material needs of their communities."

They said they had asked "in the clearest possible terms" that Mr Mugabe use his powers as head of state" to put an end to all unacceptable and illegal behaviour".

Abuses detailed in the dossier given to Mr Mugabe included:

  • Zimbabwean bishops had received death threats by phone, in person and at gun point
  • Access to to churches, schools, clinics and mission stations had been denied
  • Police had tear-gassed and beaten congregations
  • An Anglican Church member had been murdered after refusing to join Dr Kunonga's Church
  • Clinics had been told they could not accept donated drugs - leading to deaths when drugs were rejected
  • Priests had been evicted from their rectories

Anglicans accuse Mr Mugabe of helping Nolbert Kunonga, the former bishop of Harare dismissed by Dr Williams, to carry out assaults on them.

Analysis

Rowan Williams, as the first among equals in the worldwide Anglican Communion, has little power to govern his global church, and in Zimbabwe he has no political power at all.

The archbishop has to rely on moral authority, an asset demonstrated by the large crowds who cheered his denunciation of "mindless and Godless" violence sanctioned by the government.

Nolbert Kunonga and his supporters were at pains to diminish Dr Williams - dismissing him first as a neo-colonialist and then as a homosexual.

But Mr Mugabe evidently felt he would benefit from meeting the Anglican leader, letting it be known that he intended to hold him to account for the Church's acquiescence in imposing sanctions against Zimbabwe's ruling elite.

The account that actually emerged from the meeting was of a resolute archbishop holding the president responsible for the violent persecution of Anglicans.

However, it's likely that Mr Mugabe will have a different view - one likely to appear shortly in the big government-controlled newspaper - and it's only the president who has the political power to end the persecution.

Dr Williams said Mr Mugabe had not seemed "entirely familiar" with the scale of intimidation contained in the dossier presented to him and expressed his concern at the damage the Church division was doing to communities generally in Zimbabwe.

Prior to the meeting, Mr Mugabe's spokesman had said the president intended to raise the issue of Western sanctions and question Dr Williams on his Church' s attitude to homosexuality.

After the meeting, Dr Williams said Mr Mugabe had not said anything "greatly surprising" on Britain. "I was aware of his views on Great Britain's relationships with Zimbabwe in the last couple of decades."

The archbishop said raising the issue of homosexuality was a complete distraction - "throwing sand in the air".

He said he had no regrets about his visit to Zimbabwe and meeting with Mr Mugabe "partly because the local church itself needs a platform to make absolutely sure that its concerns - its grave concerns about injustice and violence are given the maximum possible publicity".

'Godless assaults'

On Saturday, Rowan Williams criticised "mindless and Godless assaults" in a sermon in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare.

During the Eucharist sermon on Sunday, Dr Williams pointedly criticised what he said was the "lawlessness" that characterised Zimbabwe.

BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott said the meeting between the archbishop and the 87-year-old president was taking place against the background of Dr Williams' intense and sustained criticism of Mr Mugabe's regime.

Dr Williams has questioned Mr Mugabe's political legitimacy and held him responsible for the persecution.

In his sermon on Sunday to an estimated 15,000 Anglicans, Dr Williams, apparently in response to Mr Kunonga's claim that he represents "neo-colonial interests", acknowledged that British colonialism had been motivated by greed.

But he said it was tragic that this illegitimate rule had been replaced by "another kind of lawlessness".

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