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Anglican archbishop meets Mugabe over persecution allegations

From Nkepile Mabuse, CNN
updated 3:52 PM EDT, Mon October 10, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Rowan Williams describes the meeting as "candid"
  • NEW: Zimbabwe's prime minister expresses hope that a "resolution will be found"
  • Williams is the highest-profile British figure in Zimbabwe in years
  • The ousted leader of a breakaway Anglican sect protests the visit

(CNN) -- Rowan Williams, the leader of the worldwide Anglican communion, sat down for a meeting with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Williams' spokesman, David Brownlie-Marshall, said Monday.

Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, is the highest-profile British public figure to meet Mugabe in years.

After the meeting, which Williams described as "candid," the archbishop said his goal in coming to Zimbabwe was met.

"I came to Zimbabwe with the hope of sharing with the president our concerns about the divisions within the Anglican church," he said. "We were able to share those concerns and ... abuses our people have suffered."

Williams noted that "disagreement was expressed clearly" during the meeting, "but it was held in a peaceful manner."

Mugabe did not speak to reporters after the visit.

A breakaway sect of the Anglican church allied to Mugabe protested Sunday against Williams' visit to the country.

Nolbert Kunonga, the excommunicated former bishop of Harare, led the protest.

Williams has accused Kunonga of using state resources to intimidate the loyal Anglican congregation, often with violence.

The archbishop also met with the country's prime minister Monday.

"We have been discussing the challenges facing the Anglican church and the urgent need for the church ... to feel secure and to feel that they are protected by the law, by a non-partisan police," Williams told reporters from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's home.

Tsvangirai expressed hope that a "resolution will be found," adding, "people are suffering needlessly."

Describing Zimbabwe as "troubled," Williams did not mince his words in a sermon in Zimbabwe on Sunday, asking Mugabe's government to ensure there is "peace and justice" in the country.

"God has given so many gifts to this land. It has the capacity to feed its people and more," he said. "Its minerals wealth is great. But we have seen years when land is not used to feed people and lies idle."

He added that, for a long time, the ruling class held on to power that "they had seized at the expense of the indigenous people, and ignored their rights and their hopes for dignity and political freedom."

"This is replaced by another kind of lawlessness, where so many live daily in fear of attack if they fail to comply with what the powerful require of them," he said.

Kunonga says the archbishop is politicizing divisions within the church by wanting to meet with Mugabe.

"He is going to Zimbabwe to show solidarity with the clergy," another Williams press officer, Marie Papworth, said Saturday.

"This is a pastoral and not a political visit, but he would want to speak to President Mugabe about the reports he has received from Anglicans being persecuted," she told CNN.

The breakaway faction is led by Kunonga, an ally of Mugabe. According to reports, Kunonga said gay priests had gained too much influence in the church.

The other faction, recognized by the global Anglican Communion, is led by Chad Gandiya.

Two months ago, Zimbabwe's supreme court confirmed Gandiya as the bishop of Harare but placed all Anglican properties in Zimbabwe in the custody of Kunonga.

Armed with eviction orders, Kunonga has reportedly evicted supporters of his rival from buildings owned by the church, including schools and orphanages. Gandiya has blamed police for harassment, according to The New York Times.

Williams has indicated he believes the intimidation is government sponsored.

"That violence is actively supported by the police, despite court judgments in favor of the new leadership," he wrote in 2010.

At a recent press conference, Kunonga called the archbishop a British diplomat coming to Zimbabwe to represent neo-colonialism.

In 2008, at the height of a violent crackdown against opposition supporters in Zimbabwe, Williams took the view that talking to Mugabe would be fruitless.

"The problem is, of course, that coming from a church, which in his mind is clearly associated with the colonial past, there is very little moral leverage that any of us have, which is why direct appeals to President Mugabe are most unlikely to produce any results."

Williams is the titular leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, the world's third-largest Christian denomination, with about 70 million members.

Journalist Columbus Mavhunga contributed to this report.

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