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Tuesday, September 1, 1998 Published at 19:11 GMT 20:11 UK


Non-Aligned Movement meets in Durban

Cuban President Fidel Castro (left) arrives for the meeting

More than 50 heads of state have gathered in the South African city of Durban, amid heavy security, for the 12th Non-Aligned Movement summit.

The summit, formally opened by the hosts South Africa, is taking place amid tight security after a number of hoax bomb threats.

Armed police have mounted road blocks around the international conference centre and many hotels have been fenced off from the public.

The two days of main sessions between leaders continues until Thursday following on from meetings between foreign ministers and senior delegates.

Gap between rich and poor

The Non-Aligned Movement was born in 1961 with 25 founding members. Its membership has since swollen to 113.

Born in the depths of the Cold War, it aimed to unite countries that did not wish to be allied either the US-led western bloc or the Soviet-dominated eastern bloc.

Economic empowerment of developing nations and international terrorism are two of the key items on the agenda.

But South Africa's 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.

In particular, he 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 leading economic powers and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The summit will also discuss a number of concerns directly affecting Non-Aligned Movement countries, such as nuclear testing in India and Pakistan and the on-going conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Koti Annan, the United Nations' general secretary, is planning a summit of African leaders to take place during the NAM meeting.

Afghanistan and Sudan are also pressing for the movement to condemn the United States for its recent cruise missile air strikes against alleged terrorist targets in those countries.

Congo to be discussed

The Congolese delegation intends to call on NAM to condemn Rwanda and Uganda for supporting rebel troops and having their own forces within the country.

South Africa's President, Nelson Mandela, who has sought a diplomatic solution to Congo's civil war, said that peace would be one of the top issues on the agenda.

The Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, who has rejected Mr Mandela's efforts so far to find a peaceful solution in the Congo, has arrived for the summit.

But his ally, President Laurent Kabila of the Congo, has formally declined the invitation to attend, though sources in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, have said he might arrive unexpectedly.

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