The Anglican Church in Zimbabwe's eastern province of Manicaland is investigating allegations that militias linked to the country's ruling Zanu PF party took part in training sessions on the premises of one of its schools in April.

According to newspaper reports, members of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF) and Zanu PF militias conducted a five-day military training session at St George's primary school in the Muchena area of Penhalonga, about 30 miles north of the eastern city of Mutare.

Francis Matambanadzo, education officer for the Anglican Diocese, confirmed to the Eastern Star, a weekly newspaper based in Mutare, that his church had received reports of the alleged militia training. The church was investigating the matter, he said.

Matamabanadzo said that after receiving complaints about the alleged military training, he had contacted the school. He was told that a group of people identifying themselves as ZDF members came to the school and asked to use its facilities. The ZDF members discussed the matter with one of the teachers as the headmaster was away.

Matambanadzo told the Eastern Star: "The teacher in question then consulted with a senior teacher who said to him they had no choice but to allow them to use the facilities."

Matambanadzo declined specify what the school facilities were used for. "I have not yet consulted Bishop Sebastian Bakare on the issue," he said.

The military training, according to sources, involved youths from the area who received training in martial arts, defense and street-fighting skills.

Giles Mutsekwa, the member of parliament for Mutare North and a member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, alleged that the school had been used as a boarding and training area for the ruling Zanu PF party's militias.

He claimed the youths were being trained to terrorize rural communities in the run-up to next year's presidential election.

"I cannot imagine church facilities being utilized to prepare a particular party to unleash terror to Christians just because they share different political views," Mutekwa said in a letter to Matambanadzo.

Matambanadzo said the teacher who had allowed the ZDF members access to the school facilities—including classrooms as sleeping quarters—had since written to him explaining his version of what took place.

However, he refused to divulge the contents of the teacher's explanation, insisting that Bishop Bakare needed to see the letter first.

The alleged training took place from the April 13 to 17.

Zanu PF said the youths were only undergoing training under the national service program. "It's not about training militias, but youths who are responding to the cause for national service," said Charles Pemhenayi, Zanu PF's spokesman in the province.

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Evangelicals Abstain from Zimbabwe's Interfaith Body | Christian group opposes blending of Christianity and traditional African religion. (Apr. 18, 2000)

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