Mandela invites Mobutu to talks with rebel Kabila Summit is expected to take place quickly if Zairian president accepts

April 18, 1997|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- President Nelson Mandela invited Zaire's beleaguered President Mobutu Sese Seko yesterday to meet with rebel leader Laurent Kabila for face-to-face talks here in South Africa.

The invitation caps a sustained effort by Mandela's government to play a leading role as continental peacemaker in a civil war that threatens not only the survival of Zaire but Central Africa's stability.

"We are confident that all parties are committed now to having a summit between the two leaders," Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said in a radio interview last night.

The invitation to Mobutu followed a meeting Wednesday in Cape Town between Mandela and Kabila.

If Mobutu accepts the invitation, which was relayed to him in Kinshasa, the Zairian capital, the summit is expected to take place quickly.

Kabila, whose troops now control about half of Zaire and are coming nearer Kinshasa, made no pledge in his meeting with Mandela to agree to a cease-fire.

Cease-fire is key goal

Officials say the cessation of hostilities leading to a long-term settlement will be a top item on a summit agenda.

Once the two leaders agree to the major thrust of a peace proposal, officials from both sides are expected to work out the details.

In earlier talks here, representatives of Mobutu and Kabila agreed on the need for democratic change in Zaire leading to "transparent, fair and inclusive" elections, monitored by international observers. If a peace treaty is agreed on, the United Nations and Organization of African Unity likely will oversee its implementation.

Algerian diplomat Mohamed Sahnoun, representative of both organizations to the Great Lakes region of Africa, which includes Zaire, has chaired all the meetings here.

While South Africa's diplomacy has been focused on fostering a peace accord, its interest extends beyond stopping the bloodshed.

Trade ties sought

It also is anxious to strengthen its economic ties with Zaire, already one of its major African markets and potentially one of the richest countries on the continent with its wealth of natural resources.

Said Pahad last night: "It is very, very obvious that a stable Zaire will provide tremendous opportunities for trade and investment between our two countries."

The talks have given South Africa's leaders a chance to establish a solid relationship with Kabila, who appears destined to become the next leader of Zaire.

South Africa also has indicated that it would be willing to consider allowing Mobutu to live here should he be forced out of his country as well as office.

Pub Date: 4/18/97

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