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Tuesday, September 29, 1998 Published at 15:33 GMT 16:33 UK

World: Africa

Mandela says Lesotho talks 'fruitful'

President Mandela and King Letsie III - the monarch was obliged to stay silent

South African President Nelson Mandela says he has had positive talks with Lesotho's King Letsie III.

The two met on Tuesday, a week after an armed intervention, led by South Africa, ended in chaos and devastation in the highland kingdom.

Mr Mandela and King Letsie had 90 minutes of what Mr Mandela called "fruitful discussions" on the role the monarch could play in settling the dispute between the Lesotho Government and the opposition.

[ image: A wounded soldier is evacuated]
A wounded soldier is evacuated
"I want him to continue to play a positive role especially now the process of negotiations has started," Mr Mandela said.

The present political deadlock stems from a dispute over elections held in May, which led to opposition accusations of vote-rigging, then violent protests in the capital Maseru and an uprising by part of the army.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) intervention forces - on this occasion comprising South African and Botswanan soldiers - were requested to intervene.

But the troops met unexpectedly fierce resistance from the renegade soldiers, and at least 100 people were killed in the clashes.

But Mr Mandela has defended the intervention. He said it had been necessary "to ensure that there is peace and stability so that the Basotho [the people of Lesotho] themselves can sit down and explore a political solution.

"Our belief is that issues of this nature cannot be settled through military intervention. They need a political solution and it is only the Basotho who can do that."

According to South African officials, the Lesotho government will meet leaders of the three main opposition parties at the UN offices in the Lesotho capital Maseru on Friday.

The talks will be overseen by officials from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, Mr Mandela said.

[ image: South African soldiers still patrol Maseru]
South African soldiers still patrol Maseru
The president did not give a timetable for the departure of the SADC force, but he said a clearer picture should emerge after the meeting on Friday.

"We have not got the resources to keep our forces indefinitely," he said.

"It is in our interest that there is a speedy resolution to save scarce resources in order to better the lives of our people."

Mr Mandela also told journalists that King Letsie would not answer any questions, as this could compromise his position as arbiter of disputes in the kingdom of Lesotho.

BBC Africa correspondent Jeremy Vine says that the king is in an appalling position as he must, constitutionally, remain impartial, and cannot comment on one of the most disastrous weeks in his country's history.

He says the king may be calculating that Lesotho needs South Africa's help to rebuild its capital.

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