African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, saying, "We consider ourselves comrades in arms," thanked Libyan leader Col. Moammar Kadafi on Friday for military training he gave ANC fighters and condemned the 1986 U.S. air raids on Libya.
About 3,000 cheering students greeted Mandela when he arrived in Tripoli from Algiers as part of an African tour he is taking with his wife, Winnie.
The anti-apartheid leader was whisked to Kadafi's Bedouin tent residence inside the heavily armed Azizya barracks in Tripoli.
"You have given military training to South Africans who wanted to obtain their liberation through armed struggle," Mandela said after embracing Kadafi outside his tent. "In our situation, as in other countries, an armed struggle is one of the most effective ways for fighting for political change in our country.
"Your readiness to provide us with the facilities of forming an army of liberation indicated your commitment to the fight for peace and human rights in the world," Mandela said.
Diplomats say Libyan officials regard Mandela's visit as a triumphant symbol of Libyan policy that will considerably boost Tripoli's prestige in the African world.
On the way to the meeting with Kadafi, Libyan officials stopped and showed Mandela the ruins of Kadafi's former residence, bombed by the United States on April 15, 1986, in retaliation for terrorist attacks allegedly sponsored by the Libyan strongman.
Mandela insisted on seeing every room in the building, which was littered with bomb shrapnel and wreckage from a downed U.S. Air Force plane.