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By Peta Thornycroft
Harare - One of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's favourite bishops has been accused of a range of crimes, including incitement to murder.
He will now face a trial convened by the Anglican Church of Central Africa under canon law.
Bishop of Harare, Norbert Kunonga, the first Anglican priest in Africa in more than 100 years to face trial by his spiritual masters, is accused of sinning against the church, its officials and its flock.
If found guilty by three judges, including two African bishops, the controversial prelate could be excommunicated and might even face civil charges if allegations of missing church funds are proved.
The first of 11 charges against Kunonga was temporarily withdrawn on Tuesday.
It alleged that he sought the assistance of Mugabe's Central Intelligence Organisation and militant war veterans to incite or seek to incite the murder of 10 prominent Anglicans, including priests and church wardens.
Kunonga said he would not accept evidence on this charge by telephone from London where Anglican priest Father James Mukonga, who fled Zimbabwe last year, was waiting to give evidence by video link to support his affidavit.
After proceedings were adjourned until Thursday, Advocate Jeremy Lewis, for the prosecution, said Mukonga would be able to give evidence in person in Malawi.
Mukonga reportedly has letters on official Diocesan notepaper and signed by Kunonga to support his allegation.
Other charges the bishop faces are that he virtually dismembered the infrastructure of the Harare diocese by sacking 19 priests or church officials - one priest he sacked was deported to Tanzania last week - dismissed heads of most of the church's institutions and banned the choir from singing in the cathedral.
He is also accused of banning a predecessor, Bishop Peter Hatendi, from conducting or preaching at services, of abusing church property including vehicles and funds, falsifying minutes of church meetings, and removing and disposing of memorabilia, plaques, tablets from the cathedral despite protests from parishioners.
Kunonga's appointment to the Harare diocese five years ago was accompanied by accusations that he bent canon law to become Zimbabwe's senior Anglican.
He went on to enrage his flock at the Harare cathedral by preaching support for Mugabe.
He also preached racial hatred, according to a group of parishioners, mostly black, who are in Harare to give evidence against him.
The bishop, unlike most senior Zimbabwean churchmen, has refused to criticise Mugabe's on-going human rights abuses.
He also became the first priest to openly help himself to two of Zimbabwe's best equipped white-owned farms.
The Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, now desperately short of funds, has sought donations from followers around the world to pay for this landmark trial in a courtroom convened at the Royal Harare Golf Club.
Judge James Kalaile, a leading Anglican and Malawi supreme court judge, is assisted being by two bishops from Zambia.
The headquarters of the Anglican Church in Central Africa is in Malawi.
Prominent Zimbabwean Anglican Pauline Makoni, who travelled from London to give evidence against Kunonga, said the trial has been a long time coming and it has been hard work getting this far.
I hope justice will be done.
Hers was one of the names allegedly given to state security agents by the bishop.
Prosecution documents before the court show there was some resistance by the Episcopal Synod three years ago to disciplinary action against Kunonga, who has always maintained his detractors were racists.
Kunonga has refused to speak to the press.