Mandela meets leaders before NAM summit

By Brendan Boyle

DURBAN, South Africa (Reuters) - Sep 01: President Nelson Mandela, who has sought a diplomatic solution to Congo's civil war, said Tuesday peace topped the agenda of talks he held with heads of state on the eve of a Non-Aligned Movement summit.

``Peace is a fundamental issue. Whenever heads of state meet and discuss problems, they are discussed from the point of view of peace,'' he told reporters in South Africa's east coast port of Durban as he held a series of one-on-one meetings.

Mandela's first meeting was with Organization of African Unity (OAU) Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim, who, with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, will try to find a formula for peace in Laurent Kabila's Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Non-Aligned summit begins formally on Wednesday with war looming also in Angola, where a four-year-old peace process was in tatters this week following the government's expulsion of the opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) from parliament.

``We are talking about a wide variety of things - the situation in the Great Lakes (region), the situation in the Congo,'' Mandela said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Deputy President Thabo Mbeki told reporters the conflict in the Congo, where Kabila faces a rebellion in the east led by members of the country's Tutsi minority, would be discussed in a series of parallel meetings.

``Clearly, the people from the region who are here will interact with each other. I would like to believe...that interaction will take the process forward,'' Mbeki said.

``I am quite certain that there will be a cease-fire, that there will be a withdrawal of foreign troops...and particular processes will take place in the Congo ensuring that there will be inclusive political processes and some more definite indication as to when elections might take place,'' he added.

Mbeki said the Congo conflict would not be a priority on the summit agenda, but he confirmed that Annan, who arrived in Durban on Tuesday, had asked for a meeting with regional leaders on security in the region.

Annan told reporters in Johannesburg before flying to Durban he wanted to see a withdrawal of all foreign troops from the Congo.

Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia have sent troops and equipment including tanks and jet fighters to prop up Kabila's 15-month-old administration.

Kabila in turn accuses Rwanda and Uganda of backing the rebellion against him.

``Ultimately, we would like to see all foreign forces withdraw from the Congo. That is the ultimate objective,'' Annan said.

Congo Justice Minister Mwenzi Kongolo told a news conference at the summit venue there could be no peace until Rwanda and Uganda had pulled their forces out.

``We have aggressors in the land. The only way we can achieve peace is for them to leave. Before the aggressors came, there was no problem,'' he said.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who has rejected Mandela's efforts to find a peaceful solution in the Congo, arrived late on Tuesday for the formal summit on Wednesday and Thursday.

Kabila has formally declined the invitation to attend, though sources in the Congo capital of Kinshasa have said he might arrive unexpectedly.

Earlier on Tuesday, South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki told reporters that reform of the relationship between the world's rich and poor nations would be the major focus of the summit.

``The single most important thing (at the summit) would be to agree...how we approach the question of the restructuring of the world economy so that it has an impact on the development needs of the developing countries,'' he said.

``It is quite clear that if one thinks about further expansion in the world economy...it is necessary to bring into that world economy these millions of people who are poor.''

In particular, Mbeki said the Non-Aligned Movement needed to use its leverage as the largest grouping within the United Nations, representing nearly two-thirds of the world's population, to give itself enhanced bargaining weight with the Group of Seven and the World Trade Organization (WTO).