JOHANNESBURG, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Former South African President Nelson Mandela said on Friday the United Nations had a duty to send peacekeepers to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to end Africa's biggest war since World War Two.
Mandela, who spoke at talks with Congolese opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, also shrugged off Congolese President Laurent Kabila's criticism of South Africa's alleged support for rebels.
"It is the duty of the United Nations to go to the Congo. They must go to the Congo and promote peace," Mandela said.
Mandela, Africa's elder statesman, urged Western countries and the U.N. Security Council to move quickly to overcome difficulties that prevented the deployment of peacekeepers in the former Zaire.
"I hope that in due course they (the West and U.N.) will overcome the difficulties and send troops to the Congo," he added.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has recommended 5,000 troops and military support personnel to protect 500 unarmed military observers in the Congo, thereby laying the groundwork for a possible larger force.
But the United Nations, led by the United States, is still hesitating, saying the belligerents in Africa's third largest country must first end fighting. Seven African heads of state addressed the Security Council on Monday and demanded that the world body send peacekeepers to shore up a faltering ceasefire pact.
MANDELA TICKS OFF KABILA
Responding to accusations this week by Kabila that South Africa was aiding rebels supported by Rwanda and Uganda, Mandela said his country would continue to meet all the political players in the Congo just as it did when Kabila was still a rebel two years ago.
"We are prepared to speak to anybody in the Congo -- Kabila himself, the civilian opposition and the rebels," the former president said.
"We did that when Kabila was a rebel. We initiated contact between Kabila and the late president Mobutu (Sese Seko)," he added referring to Mobutu, who died four months after he was ousted by Kabila in 1997.
Mandela's Friday meeting with Tshisekedi, a vociferous opposition leader and opponent of Kabila, is sure to incense Kabila further.
The South African government, which has said it was ready to send troops and equipment to the Congo, has rejected the charges by Kabila and said it was committed to a peaceful solution and an impartial role.
Troops from Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe have entered the war, which began in 1998 to bolster Kabila's government against rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda.
The governments signed a ceasefire deal in Lusaka, the Zambian capital, last July and rebel leaders joined the agreement in August. But fighting has continued, destabilising central Africa and driving one million people from their homes.
The war in the Congo erupted in 1998 when mutinous soldiers backed by Rwanda and Uganda took up arms after accusing Kabila of corruption, nepotism and failure to chart out a clear political programme.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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