British churchmen are urging the government to take urgent action to ease suffering in the rural areas of strife-torn Rhodesia.

The call has come from the British Council of Churches, whose members include all leading Anglicans, Protestant and Orthodox churches, and with the backing of the Quaker peace and service arm of the Society of Friends.

In a statement, the British council said that, on present evidence, the bitter war in Rhodesia will likely continue for some time.

"It is evident to all those who are acquainted with the situation in Rhodesia that the suffering among the rural population due to the war is now widespread and is getting worse," the statement said.

"Communications and civil administration have broken down in many areas, crops have not been planted, cattle are dying from disease, and from these causes along there will be widespread food shortages during the coming months."

The statement charged that Rhodesian security forces are restricting the supply of food to areas where guerrillas are known to be operating, while guerrillas in the areas they control allow entry of food supplies that only they themselves can distribute.

The council urged the British government to enlist the support of the United Nations and its agencies and of member states in regard to supplies and logistics required by the International Red Cross for distribution of food in essential areas.