Page last updated at 12:44 GMT, Thursday, 24 April 2008 13:44 UK

Church calls for Zimbabwe action

David Fombe in a Harare hospital
This man says he was locked in a burning hut by ruling party militants

The leaders of the Anglican church have called for international action to prevent violence in Zimbabwe reaching "horrific levels".

In a joint statement the Archbishops of Canterbury and York also called for an international arms embargo on Zimbabwe.

President Robert Mugabe "is living on borrowed time", Archbishop of York John Sentamu told the BBC.

Meanwhile, a Chinese foreign ministry official said a ship carrying weapons to Zimbabwe might return to China.

Earlier this week, Zimbabwe's churches warned that the situation could become a "genocide".

"The current climate of political intimidation, violence, vote-rigging and delay has left the presidential election process without credibility," said a joint statement from the two archbishops.

They also suggested mediation by someone such as former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who earlier this year helped end the crisis in Kenya after disputed elections.

'Change is coming'

Archbishop Sentamu, who is originally from Uganda, also urged police and soldiers not to be used for political ends - some reports suggest the security forces have led attacks on opposition supporters.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams calls for international action in Zimbabwe

"I am saying to the police officers and the army people... you are not there to prop up a government, you are not there to be used as an arm of repression."

He said his message to Zimbabweans was: "Don't be afraid, change is coming."

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said Zimbabwe could be heading for a "meltdown" because of the political tension and poverty.

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has joined the calls for an international arms embargo on Zimbabwe.

"If violence flares further in Zimbabwe, those supplying the weapons will be left with blood on their hands," he said.

The results of the 29 March presidential elections have not been released, as the opposition says its supporters are being attacked, with 10 dead, ahead of a possible run-off.



Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has been under fire over March's disputed elections. His neighbours have been supportive but regional differences are now emerging.


South Africa's President Mbeki is the key Zimbabwe mediator. He has refused to criticise Robert Mugabe but the ruling ANC, and trade unions have urged him to take a stronger line.


Zambian President Mwanawasa has taken the region's strongest line on Zimbabwe. His call for Africa not to let a ship carrying weapons to Zimbabwe dock will outrage President Mugabe.


Angola's government has close ties to Zimbabwe's ruling party - both came to power after fighting colonial rule in the 1970s.


Botswana is not seen as an ally of Robert Mugabe. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai fled here after polls.


Namibia is a close ally of Zimbabwe - it too is planning to redistribute white-owned farms to black villagers.


Mozambique has hosted some white farmers forced from Zimbabwe and is seen as relatively sympathetic to Zimbabwe's opposition.


Tanzania's ruling party has a long history of close ties to Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party and is unlikely to criticise him.


DR Congo's President Joseph Kabila is an ally of Robert Mugabe, who sent troops to help his father, Laurent Kabila, fight rebels.


Malawi is seen as neutral. But some 3m people of Malawian origin are in Zimbabwe, mostly farmworkers who have lost their jobs and were sometimes assaulted during farm invasions.

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The government says that the scale of the violence has been exaggerated and there have been no political deaths.

The electoral commission says it cannot release the results until a recount of 23 parliamentary results is completed.

The parliamentary results show that the ruling Zanu-PF party lost its majority for the first time since independence in 1980.

But this could change if the recount reverses the initial results.

So far, two recounts have been finished - both have confirmed the original results.

Much of the reported violence has been in rural areas which Zanu-PF has lost to the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in this election.

The campaign for the 29 March election was relatively peaceful.

The MDC says its leader Morgan Tsvangirai won outright but government ministers say projections point to a second round.

Mr Tsvangirai has been in Mozambique, on the latest leg of his tour of African countries, trying to increase pressure on Mr Mugabe.

He is staying out of Zimbabwe, amid fears for his safety.

'World's policeman'

The opposition says the weapons on board the Chinese ship would be used against its supporters ahead of a possible run-off in the presidential election.

This was denied by Zanu-PF spokesman Patrick Chinamasa, who said every country had the right to buy weapons.

Chinese ship off Durban, 17 April 2008
The weapons might be returning to China

The US has urged China to recall the ship, which has not been allowed to unload in South Africa, before the cargo would be transported to landlocked Zimbabwe.

The British government has also called for an international arms embargo on Zimbabwe.

Zambia's president urged African countries not to let the arms, which reportedly include three million rounds of ammunition, 1,500 rocket-propelled grenades and 2,500 mortar rounds, pass through their territories.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu condemned the US intervention but said she thought the ship would return, as it has not been able to dock.

"To my knowledge, the Chinese company has decided to recall the ship," she said.

However, the shipping company said it could not confirm this.

Ms Jiang said the weapons had been ordered last year and were part of normal trade.

"Some people in the US are always critical, positioning themselves as the world's policeman, but they are not popular in the world."

"It's pointless... to politicise this issue," she said.

The An Yue Jiang was due to unload in the South African port of Durban last week but a court said the weapons should not pass through the country.

South African dockers refused to unload the ship in case the arms were used to abuse human rights in Zimbabwe.

It had been reported that the ship would then unload in Angola, which is a close ally of President Robert Mugabe.


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