President Nelson Mandela failed yesterday to rally southern African leaders to his campaign to punish Nigeria's military regime for last month's execution of nine minority rights activists.
A meeting in Pretoria of the representatives of the 12-member Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) backed international efforts to push Nigeria towards democracy but refused to take an initiative of its own.
The SADC leaders said it would be "unwise" for any of them to make individual policy statements on Nigeria.
Mr Mandela had called the meeting under the pretence of reviewing Commonwealth initiatives to force democratic change in Nigeria. But according to government sources, he really wanted to galvanise regional support for his call to boycott Nigeria's oil exports.
But such a development was unlikely after the US Vice-President, Al Gore, appeared non-committal about Mr Mandela's campaign during an official visit last week. In a further setback, the Secretary-General of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), Salim Ahmed Salim, said on Friday that he did not support a campaign to isolate Nigeria.
The United States, the European Union and some African countries have imposed an arms embargo on Nigeria and withdrawn ambassadors, but only Germany and France are sympathetic to Mr Mandela's call for an oil embargo.
Faced with such overwhelming opposition, Mr Mandela sought to dispel the impression that sanctions were on the agenda of yesterday's meeting. When asked if he was still pursuing his call for action against Nigeria, Mr Mandela replied: "All possible options are not excluded...any such options must be through the [Commonwealth] structure." Only four of the SADC body's 12 heads of state - from Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and Malawi - joined Mr Mandela yesterday, with other countries sending lower-ranking officials.
Meanwhile in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, the country's military ruler General Sani Abacha named a commission to hold elections under a transition to civilian rule demanded by Western countries.