HARARE, ZIMBABWE, NOV. 26 -- Armed dissidents killed 16 persons, including reportedly two Americans, in a nighttime attack on a mission in Zimbabwe's troubled southern Matabeleland province, other missionaries reported today.

Four antigovernment rebels late last night attacked the Community of Reconciliation mission near the city of Bulawayo, missionaries in the area said.

The 16 victims, one black and 15 white, including an American couple and an Australian, were shot and axed before their bodies were burned, they said. The victims' names were not immediately available, pending notification of their families.

The missionaries said they were asked to arrange funerals in Bulawayo for four men, six women and six children, the youngest of whom was only six weeks old.

Two children escaped, a 6-year-old boy who jumped through a window and a 13-year-old girl who was forced to watch the massacre and was ordered to deliver a note from the attackers to authorities in Bulawayo, missionaries said. They would not give the contents of the note.

There was no official comment on the massacre, but Home Affairs Minister Enos Nkala planned to hold a news conference on the incident Friday.

The massacre is the bloodiest single dissident attack involving whites since Zimbabwe became independent in 1980. The attack follows the killing by security forces last week of dissident leader Richard Gwasela, who allegedly was involved in the slaying of more than 30 persons, including five whites.

Many of the dissidents claim to support opposition leader Joshua Nkomo and his Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU), but Nkomo repeatedly has denied any connection with these dissidents. Prime Minister Robert Mugabe and Nkomo, his longtime rival, for months have been holding on-again, off-again talks in an effort to unify their parties.

An intense rivalry exists in Matabeleland between the majority Shona tribe, represented by Mugabe's party, and the Ndebele, the tribe to which about 20 percent of the population belong and from which ZAPU draws most of its supporters.

Animosities intensified in May when unity talks between the two parties broke down. Armed dissidents began raiding villages and ambushing government vehicles.

Among the victims of the attacks have been white farmers, nine of whom have been killed since May. About 60 have been killed since independence.Special correspondent Dan Baum in Harare contributed to this report.