Mandela feels handover by Libya vindicates him

South African president defends his connections with `pariah' nations

April 06, 1999|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- President Nelson Mandela, a key player in the handover of the two Lockerbie bombing suspects by Libyan leader Muammar el Kadafi, said yesterday that the transfer justified what some here have called his "pariah" foreign policy.

Mandela has taken widespread criticism for the close relations he has maintained during his five years in power with Third World dictators who supported the struggle by his African National Congress party during the apartheid era.

Among the "pariah" leaders he has kept close contact with are Kadafi, Cuban President Fidel Castro and Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

Mandela, who has tried for months to persuade Kadafi to permit the trial of the suspects in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, said yesterday: "I was confident right from the very beginning that President Kadafi would keep his word because my experience with him is that when he makes an undertaking he keeps it, and that approach and that confidence in him has been fully justified."

He credited Saudi Arabia and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan with helping engineer the deal that turned the alleged bombers over for trial.

Responding to criticism of his relationship with Kadafi, he said: "I will not abandon a man who has helped us when we were all alone, and that is why I had the highest respect for President Kadafi, and I have respect for Iraq."

Reflecting his consistent commitment to stand by old friendships from "the struggle" era, Mandela said pointedly during President Clinton's visit last year that critics of South Africa's foreign relationships could "go jump in the lake."

Whether it has been sanctioning contacts with the Palestinian extremist group Hamas or maintaining ties with Laurent Kabila, the new dictator of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mandela's foreign policy has drawn criticism for acts of omission as well as commission.

There was widespread dismay that South Africa sent only an ambassador to the funeral of King Hussein of Jordan, which attracted a galaxy of international statesmen.

This controversy coincided with the ANC's appointment of a disbarred attorney as consul-general to India. The candidate withdrew under intense pressure.

The Citizen, a conservative daily newspaper read mainly by whites, has called the country's diplomacy "bizarre."

In the wake of his success as a mediator in resolving the Lockerbie deadlock, Mandela declined to become involved in the latest international drama -- Kosovo.

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