Zimbabwean authorities say President Robert Mugabe has pardoned 2,000 prisoners in an effort to ease overcrowding in the nation's prisons, which face a shortage of funds and even food.

State media on Monday quoted prison official Huggins Machingauta as saying those freed include almost all female prisoners, offenders under 18 years, those aged over 70 and the terminally ill.

Machingauta says prisoners serving time for murder, rape and armed robbery won't be pardoned.

He told lawmakers last month that 100 prisoners died from hunger last year as a result of the food crisis in the nation's prisons. The justice minister, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has refuted Machingauta's claims.

Zimbabwe has 42 prisons that hold 19,000 inmates, 2,000 over capacity.