Associated Press

May 2, 1997

Church Report Alleges Atrocities

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) -- A confidential church report details attrocities by government soldiers in the 1980s, including 2,000 civilians allegedly slaughtered in a six-week period, a South African newspaper reported Friday.

The newspaper said the report's contents were reminiscent of atrocities in Rwanda and by the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia and included thousands of cases of torture, rape and human rights abuse between 1981 and 1987 in the western Matabeleland province.

The Weekly Mail and Guardian, published in Johannesburg on Friday, gave details from the 300-page report compiled from more than 1,000 witness accounts by the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission and an independent lawyers group, the Legal Resources Foundation.

Father Oskar Wermter, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church in Harare, said the report of the church's human rights arm was submitted to President Robert Mugabe on March 17. He said he did not know how the report was leaked to the newspaper.

The report spoke of 2,000 civilians slaughtered over one six- week period by soldiers of the North Korean-trained Five Brigade.

It said homes were burned, villagers were frequently beaten and corpses were left to rot and be eaten by wild animals. Mourning by survivors was forbidden, in breach of traditional tribal custom.

Pregnant women were bayoneted ``to reveal the still moving fetuses,'' sharp sticks were poked into the vaginas of girls and young women, men had their testicles crushed and electric shocks and water immersion torture were used.

Victims were raped repeatedly and some were forced to have sex with animals.

The troops, mostly from Mugabe's majority Shona tribe, accused villagers of the Ndebele tribe of supporting armed rebels loyal to former opposition politician Joshua Nkomo, the Ndebele leader.

``Most of the dead were killed in public executions,'' often after having to dig their own mass graves, the newspaper said.

The nation's eight Catholic bishops were awaiting a response from Mugabe ``which hasn't been forthcoming.''

Only after that was a decision to be made by the bishops whether to make the report's findings public. Church officials were keeping 1,000 copies of the report locked in a vault in Harare.

Mugabe's office said Friday officials wanted to study the Mail and Guardian disclosures.

In the past, Mugabe has acknowledged civilians were killed in Matabeleland but said they were the victims of war.

After independence from British colonial rule, Nkomo broke away from the first black government and scores of his guerrilla fighters returned to the bush to stage an armed uprising.

The Matabeleland rebellion ended in 1987 after Nkomo signed a unity accord with Mugabe and joined the government as a vice president, a post he still holds.

Before the accord, Nkomo alleged that as many as 20,000 people were killed in the fighting.

The Mail and Guardian said the report was based on evidence gathered in only three areas of Matabeleland -- Tsholotsho, Nyamandlovu and Matobo.

The newspaper said children were incarcerated alongside adults in one notorious internment camp and nearby villagers reported ``nightly visits by trucks'' to a mine shaft where corpses were dumped and grenades thrown down.

In other cases, 12 victims were buried alive and villagers were made to dance on the grave singing songs praising Mugabe's ruling party; a man weeping as his brother was killed was beaten to death; and a mother was forced to eat the flesh of her 4-month-old child after it was axed to death.