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Zimbabwe denies bishops' charges of Army reign of terror

The Zimbabwe government has denied charges by Roman Catholic bishops here that the nation's Army has killed hundreds of innocent civilians in the western province of Matabeleland.

The bishops' criticism is an ''irresponsible, contrived and propagandistic statement,'' Information Minister Nathan Shamuyarira said.

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The government rejected the bishops' suggestion for a judicial commission of inquiry into the Matabeleland violence. It said the bishops had borrowed from ''fabricated reports of the hostile foreign press'' in making their charges.

The bishops' statement is seen in Zimbabwe as a vindication of reports by Western journalists, diplomats, and others as well as of the accusations leveled against the government by opposition leader Joshua Nkomo.

The bishops have also accused unnamed public figures of trying to cover up atrocities, which they say are breeding an atmosphere of hatred and revenge that , in turn, could generate future violence.

Earlier, the Roman Catholic Justice and Peace Commission here said it was ''heartened'' when Prime Minister Robert Mugabe told a commission delegation that an investigation into brutality allegations was under way. The commission had seen that as a positive step because Mugabe had told a political rally that any member of the security forces guilty of brutality would be punished.

Mugabe's government claims the West has a double standard in reporting - coming down hard on events in Mata-beleland while not investigating brutal tactics of British troops in Northern Ireland.

Two Western journalists have been banned from Zimbab-we in the last two months because of alleged distortions of the truth. They are Newsweek's Holger Jensen and the Guardian's Nick Worrall.

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