Prime Minister Robert Mugabe lashed out today at church leaders and relief agencies for their criticism of alleged Army atrocities and told religious leaders, "You need to reorient yourselves in our new Zimbabwe."
With the leaders of the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches sitting grim-faced next to him, Mugabe attacked "sanctimonious prelates" and "holier-than-thou critics" who "presume to lecture us on the morality of the nation's antidissident campaign."
His speech to a meeting of leaders of religious denominations here was by far his toughest attack on critics of the three-month Army offensive in Zimbabwe's Matabeleland region against dissidents allegedly loyal to fugitive opposition leader Joshua Nkomo.
Church leaders and nongovernment relief agencies working in Matabeleland have submitted reports to the government that are said to claim that more than 1,000 civilians have been killed by the troops. Mugabe made it clear that criticism, either domestic or foreign, would have no influence on the tactics of the Army in the antidissident campaign.
"We shall proceed with ever-increasing vigor to crush them," he said. "Let me reiterate in this regard that our consciences are very clear."
Mugabe was particularly critical of an Easter pastoral letter issued by the seven Catholic bishops last week that said there was "incontrovertible evidence that many wanton atrocities and brutalities have been or are still being perpetrated" by the Army.
In remarks that were most likely aimed at the Vatican, he said much of the criticism was aimed at "the international gallery."
The government, he said, "cannot accept as authentic or legitimate the voice of a church that takes its cue and direction from foreign sources."
He complained that no churches or clerics have criticized "the heinous acts and atrocities" by the dissidents, who have killed 150 civilians in the year since Mugabe dismissed Nkomo from the Cabinet.
"We in government," he said, "are bound to ask ourselves the question why religious courage operates only in the one direction, that of criticizing the legitimate government, and grows cold in the other direction of condemning politically motivated lawless gangs."
The speech, which an aide said Mugabe wrote himself, was received by the approximately 100 church leaders in stony silence.