Crisis as Natal peace talks end in stalemate: Zulu King launches fierce attack on government and ANC as troops get set to move in on pacification mission

SOUTH AFRICA'S troubled Natal province headed for deeper crisis yesterday as talks to negotiate an end to fighting between Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party and the African National Congress made minimal progress, although they pledged to meet again in a week.

The summit, between President F W de Klerk, Nelson Mandela, Chief Buthelezi, and the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, failed to agree on the key issues of Inkatha's decision to boycott the 26-28 April elections and the demand for a virtually independent Zulu kingdom.

The only agreement was to continue discussing the issues, as well as worsening violence in Natal- KwaZulu and the nine-day-old state of emergency, in a newly established working group, according to a statement after the meeting. There could be a follow-up meeting next week, it said.

But for millions of South Africans facing a low-level civil war in Natal province, the meeting, at the Skukuza lodge in the Kruger National Park, will be seen as a failure. At least 130 people have been killed in politically related violence in Natal since Mr de Klerk imposed the emergency on 31 March, and thousands have fled their homes.

The leaders issued an 'urgent appeal' to their followers to end the violence, but previous calls have gone unheeded.

The talks began badly yesterday when King Goodwill used a private meeting with Mr Mandela to attack the ANC and Mr de Klerk's government. King Goodwill, the nephew of Chief Buthelezi, presented Mr Mandela with a statement describing the emergency as 'an act of foreign aggression, an invasion of our territory and a rape of our national dignity and pride'.

The state of emergency, spearheaded by the South African Defence Force (SADF), has failed to curb violence. The SADF's troop strength stood at 3,000 yesterday, although a failure at the summit was expected to see more troops deployed. A 150-vehicle column with 600 troops arrived on Thursday in the northern Natal town of Eshowe, just one hour by road from the KwaZulu capital, Ulundi.

In his private meeting with Mr Mandela yesterday King Goodwill repeated Chief Buthelezi's demand that the elections be postponed and that South Africa recognise an independent Zulu monarchy. 'We here today proclaim before the world our freedom and sovereignty and our unwavering will to defend it at all costs,' he said. 'Whether we end up as part of one federal state of South Africa or as a completely autonomous state will depend on what you and others in South Africa do to me and my people. The key thing is whether you are prepared to listen to our just aspirations or whether, like those who conquered us, you think you must trample with your feet on those just aspirations of my nation.'

The ANC tabled a proposal to recognise the Zulu kingdom within South Africa in return for help in holding free and fair elections in Natal-KwaZulu. In Natal, Inkatha has stepped its campaign to dissuade potential voters from going to the polls and has suggested that those who did were not loyal to the King.

The tone of King Goodwill's statement was particularly harsh. 'The only thing to talk about are the modalities of bringing the sovereignty of the Zulu kingdom into full recognition and relating the kingdom properly to the rest of South Africa.'