Mandela Visit to Libya Gives Kadafi a Boost
South African President Nelson Mandela, sternly dismissing U.S. reservations about his mission, arrived in Libya on Wednesday for a visit described by diplomats as the most important for Moammar Kadafi since the United Nations clamped sanctions on his nation in 1992.
Since the U.N. sanctions ban flights into or out of the North African country, Mandela flew to neighboring Tunisia on Wednesday and then proceeded by motorcade across the border to Libya.
Libyan television, in a broadcast monitored in Cairo, showed the two leaders with fists raised high before they listened to their nations’ anthems in Tripoli, the capital.
It also showed the Libyan leader escorting Mandela to his house, which was bombed by U.S. warplanes in 1986 after Washington accused Libya of being involved in an attack on a Berlin discotheque that killed two U.S. soldiers.
Libyans, most of them in traditional white gowns and red caps, gathered at the site and shouted: “Mandela, our hope for Africa!”
At a late-night dinner for Mandela, Kadafi described the South African leader as “a saint,” according to the television report.
“Mandela is not only South African, but he is also a symbol for the peoples of the entire world,” Kadafi said.
An announcer on Libyan television declared that Mandela’s visit was “an expression of solidarity with Libya against the conspiracy it is facing,” a reference to the U.N. sanctions.
The sanctions, which include a ban on arms sales, were imposed to force Libya to hand over two men suspected of bombing a Pan Am jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, killing 270 people.
At the dinner, Kadafi repeated his offer to try the two men either in Libya or in a third country, a proposal that Britain and the United States have rejected.
Mandela urged an end to the sanctions. “We cannot be unmoved by the plight of our African brothers and sisters,” he said.
State Department spokesman James P. Rubin expressed hope Wednesday that Mandela would raise with Libyan officials the issue “that has put Libya beyond the pale of the international community, and that is their refusal to turn over suspects responsible for . . . an international act of terrorism.”
Mandela has dismissed the U.S. criticism, saying the visit fulfills a moral commitment to Libya for its support of his African National Congress during its years of struggle against white rule in South Africa.
Earlier Wednesday, South African Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo said his government believes that “sanctions against Libya really ought to be done away with.”
Mandela has no plans to mediate between Libya and the United States.
Mandela’s trip to Libya followed a two-day visit to Egypt for talks with President Hosni Mubarak.