Mandela mediates with Blair on Libya

Click to follow
The Independent Online
PRESIDENT NELSON Mandela and his deputy, Thabo Mbeki, will act as important mediators in efforts to resolve the dispute over the Lockerbie bombing suspects during Tony Blair's visit to South Africa, which starts today.

The Prime Minister arrives on a three-day visit, which is expected to strengthen ties between the United Kingdom and South Africa. He will attend the United Kingdom-South Africa bilateral forum meeting tomorrow and meet Mr Mandela and Mr Mbeki, the President's likely successor.

Mr Blair has already said that he will ask the South Africans to use their influence with the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, to persuade him to hand over the Libyan officials suspected of planting the bomb on the Pan Am passenger airliner that brought it down on the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988.

Yesterday South Africa's deputy foreign minister, Aziz Pahad, said his government would listen to Mr Blair but would also convey to him the Libyans' point of view.

"We will convey to them what the Libyans see as obstacles and I am sure we will discuss what the British government sees as obstacles to having the trial started," Mr Pahad said. He said most of the problems around the handing over of the Lockerbie suspects had been resolved.

Mr Pahad added that everything possible should be done to ensure that the suspects were delivered to the Netherlands so that the trial could start.

He also disclosed that South Africa would use Mr Blair's visit to garner international support for an African initiative to resolve the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and would also explore ways of co- operating over Angola, where two United Nations aircraft have been shot down allegedly by forces aligned to Unita rebels.

Mr Pahad said the Unita leader, Jonas Savimbi, and his movement were flouting UN security council resolutions with impunity.

Essop Pahad, a deputy minister in the Office of the Deputy President, said an important element of the discussion with Mr Blair would be a declaration of intent on industrial co- operation. Mr Blair is expected to confirm investment of 40 billion rand (pounds 4.2bn) in exchange for South Africa's agreement to buy R10bn of British arms. Details on where the money would be invested were still under discussion, Mr Pahad said.

The Prime Minister's visit has already stirred a storm of protest from conservative Afrikaners and the Muslim community.

The Boerestaat Party leader, Robert van Tonder, yesterday rejected Mr Blair's statement that he was "sorry" for the bloodshed committed during the 1899 to 1902 Boer War.

Muslim groups have also warned that they would stage demonstrations during the visit in protest against Britain's participation in the United States- led air strikes against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

Mass demonstrations have been planned at the US embassy and at the British consulate in Cape Town tomorrow.

Leading article, Review, page 3