Zimbabwean church leaders called Tuesday for international intervention to end the violence that has swept the country in the aftermath of elections, warning that without action the attacks on opposition supporters in rural areas in particular by ruling party youth militia could lead to mass killings as experienced in Kenya and Rwanda.
"Organized violence perpetrated against individuals, families and communities who are accused of campaigning or voting for the 'wrong' political party ... has been unleashed throughout the country," said a joint statement issued by the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, the Zimbabwe Pastor's Conference and the Christian Alliance.
"We warn the world that if nothing is done to help the people of Zimbabwe from their predicament, we shall soon be witnessing genocide similar to that experienced in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and other hot spots in Africa and elsewhere," it said.
The religious groups appealed to the Southern African Development Community, the African Union and the United Nations to "work towards arresting the deteriorating political and security situation in Zimbabwe."
Among new reports of violence, sources said a 61-year-old man and his 85-year-old mother in Gutu West, Masvingo Province, were badly beaten by ZANU-PF youth militia on Saturday and had to be rushed to Harare on Tuesday for medical attention.
Opposition offices continued to be overwhelmed by people fleeing rural violence.
Vice President Thokozani Kuphe of the Movement for Democratic Change formation led by Morgan Tsvangirai visited victims in Harare hospitals as her party asked the churches to pray for peace and an end to the violence, MDC sources said.
Bishop Ancelmo Magaya of the Grace Ablaze Ministries, a Christian Alliance spokesman, told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the religious leaders fear opposition supporters may eventually retaliate.
The government has denied any responsibility in the rural violence campaign. Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa has been quoted in the state-controlled Herald newspaper as saying the opposition was waging a propaganda campaign to justify international intervention in Zimbabwe.
Chinamasa said the allegations of violence were “part of a scheme to undermine the country, President (Robert) Mugabe and our processes.” He accused opposition officials of “gallivanting all over the world lying through their teeth that there is genocide in Zimbabwe and that the country was in a state of war."
Human rights activists, meanwhile, said the humanitarian crisis could surpass the turmoil of Operation Murambatsvina ("Drive Out Trash") in 2005 when authorities forcibly evicted hundreds of thousands of people and leveled their homes.
Rights groups say more than 300 people injured in politically inspired attacks have sought medical attention with some serious injuries requiring surgery.
Thousands more are seeking shelter or hiding in the bush after their homes were burned or otherwise destroyed by war veterans and ZANU-PF youth militia in an operation that many observers believe is intended to punish those who voted for the opposition on March 29 and prepare the ground for a presidential runoff.
The MDC this week said 3,000 families have been displaced, but human rights activists said that the number is probably much higher.
Zimbabwe Peace Project Chairman Alois Chaumba told reporter Carole Gombakomba that rights organizations are trying to coordinate activities to better assess the burgeoning crisis and find ways to help the victims.