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Mandela Appeals for U.S. Help in Congo

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

PRETORIA, Republic of South Africa, Feb. 18, 2000 – The more peacemakers in the Congo the better, Nelson Mandela, former president of the Republic of South Africa, recently told Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.

Cohen met with the African leader Feb. 16 in Mandela's home village of Qunu. The conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was one of Mandela's top concerns.

"One of the military problems we have is not just the six countries that have sent armies there," Mandela said, "but in the distant part of the country, there are several militias who are not in agreement that they have to be disarmed.

"It's a very dangerous situation indeed, and unless there is a strong military presence it's going to be difficult to bring about peace," he concluded.

During his stop in Pretoria, South Africa's capital, Cohen met first with South African President Thabo Mbeki and Defense Minister Patrick Lekota. He and his wife, Janet Langhart Cohen, then traveled to Mandela's home, about an hour's flight southwest of Pretoria.

Considering the Cohen's earlier high-level government encounters, Mandela joked about his current status when the couple arrived at his home. "You came to pay a visit to an old pensioner," he said.

This "old pensioner," as he called himself, is world renowned for having fought South Africa's apartheid policy from behind prison bars. Ten years ago this month, South African officials released Mandela after he had served 27 years of a life sentence.

The South African leader won his nation's first democratic multiracial presidential election in 1994 and retired in June 1999. Mbeki succeeded Mandela as president in South Africa's second election.

The Cohens met with Mandela for about 30 minutes before the two leaders spoke with reporters. Mandela acknowledged that the United States is already helping in the Congo conflict, but said he hopes since more help would be available from the most powerful military force in the world.

"We need to be able to deploy a strong force to look after people's interests and to ensure there is peace," Mandela said. "Without the participation of the United States, it is going to be very difficult for us to make progress and to create an environment in the DRC where the natives can move freely without any threat of violence to them."

Cohen applauded Mandela's efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution to bloody fighting in Burundi involving rebel Hutu tribal factions and the Tutsi government and its supporters. "Your efforts helping to facilitate a resolution of that conflict are very important. Whatever moral or other type of support we can provide, we will do so," Cohen said.

The secretary also lauded the former president for leaving behind a succession of strong, dynamic leaders. This team "will lead South Africa to great prosperity and prominence in the future," Cohen said.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageU.S. Defense Secretary William S Cohen (center,) and his wife, Janet Langhart Cohen, talk with Ahmed Kathrada during a visit to Robben Island, Republic of South Africa. Robben Island is where South African officials imprisoned Nelson Mandela and other apartheid opponents. Kathrada, a former prisoner, has written a book about life inside the prison. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary William S. Cohen (left) met with former South African President Nelson Mandela (right), at Mandela's home in Qunu. U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Delano Lewis (left rear,) and Janet Langhart Cohen (behind Mandela) the secretary's wife, also participated in the 30-minute meeting with Mandela. Photo by Jamie McIntyre.  
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