Zimbabwe's President Criticizes Church

Harare, Zimbabwe - President Robert Mugabe used the funeral of a former Cabinet minister Sunday to publicly reprimand church leaders, who have been among the most outspoken critics of Zimbabwe's human rights record.

Addressing the funeral of Josiah Tungamirai, Mugabe recalled that the Cabinet minister and retired air force commander had quit a Catholic seminary to join the fight against white rule in what was then Rhodesia.

Tungamirai's goal had been ``to serve others, something which is sadly missing in some churches today,'' Mugabe said. ``Zimbabwe is no home for traitors, for political stooges, for political crooks and cowards.''

Mugabe's comments came the same week an Anglican bishop who is a strong supporter of the president was brought before an ecclesiastic court on charges ranging from besmirching the church to incitement to murder.

Mugabe, who led Zimbabwe to independence in 1980, has been widely criticized for his increasingly autocratic rule.

Also Sunday, children's welfare groups joined together to demand an end to forced evictions under a slum clearance campaign that the United Nations estimates has destroyed the homes or livelihoods of 700,000 people.

The groups took out a full-page add in the independent Sunday Standard newspaper to announce the formation of an alliance called the Child Protection Working Group made up of local and international aid groups, faith-based organizations and U.N. agencies.

The alliance said the government's Operation Murambatsvina - Drive Out Trash - was exposing children to ``exploitation, abuse and violence.''

It demanded an immediate end to the evictions and measures to protect children already affected - risking heavy fines, seizure of assets and jail terms for defying a government ban on non-governmental groups that involve themselves in ``governance issues.''

Thousands of children have missed schooling, had their examinations disrupted, or been separated from their families ``as a result of continual population movements,'' said the alliance.

Government officials did not respond Sunday to the group's demands.

Zimbabwe authorities claim the evictions have stopped and rebuilding has begun, but baton-wielding paramilitaries removed more than 600 people from a farm near Harare last week.