DURBAN, South Africa (Reuters) -- South African President Nelson Mandela said regional leaders at a special summit on Thursday unanimously backed the military intervention in Laurent Kabila's Congo by Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
In a significant shift from his attempts two weeks ago to negotiate an immediate cease-fire and troop standstill in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mandela told a news conference he accepted Kabila's right to call for help in the face of a foreign invasion.
"It is quite reasonable, when the legitimate head of a government of a country says: 'I have been invaded by a foreign force. Come and help me defend my country,' for the neighboring country to respond positively," Mandela said.
Mandela said the stance of the countries helping Kabila to fight off a rebellion by members of the Congo's ethnic Tutsi minority had been explained by President Sam Nujoma of Namibia.
"There was some confusion before. But once Sam Nujoma gave me this explanation and he repeated it in the summit, we unanimously supported that initiative and expressly acknowledged President Kabila as the legitimate head of that (Congo) government," Mandela said.
"There is no difference whatsoever on this point now that explanations have been given," he said.
Zimbabwe's Mugabe: Kabila's government now secure
Neither Kabila or Nujoma attended the Thursday morning meeting of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC). The gathering included U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Organization of African Unity Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim.
Annan confirmed Mandela's statement, saying: "SADC is at one on this issue, and the atmosphere was very harmonious."
Uganda and Rwanda, who are accused by Kabila of invading his vast central African country, were not represented at the meeting.
Annan declined to confirm by name that it was Uganda and Rwanda that had invaded the Congo, saying in response to a question: "President Kabila ... listed the countries who were invited. It implies that those who are there and have not been invited are there illegally and should not be there."
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who has sent troops and jet fighters to the Congo to support Kabila, did not attend the news conference, but told leaders at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Durban soon afterwards that Kabila's government was now secure.
'Everyone wants peace'
"We have now secured Kinshasa and we are quite certain that it cannot fall and that that government cannot fall. We are in a position not to continue the war, but to work together for peace," he said.
Annan signaled the way forward when he watered down his earlier demand made in Johannesburg on Tuesday for an immediate troop withdrawal and said foreign forces would leave in stages.
"Everybody wants peace. As we begin to make progress, the withdrawal in whatever sequences and phases will follow.
"Down the line, eventually, one would want to see the withdrawal of
all foreign troops, but this obviously will have to be done in sequence
and in phases and this, obviously, will have to be discussed," he said.