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Madiba asked to mediate in Middle East
Former president Nelson Mandela has been asked to mediate in the Middle East peace process.

Yasser Arafat came calling with a request for South Africa's former president Jaspreet Kindra Former president Nelson Mandela has been asked to mediate in the Middle East peace process, following the failure of the peace talks brokered by United States President Bill Clinton at Camp David last month. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who flew down to South Africa in a Osurprise visitO on Thursday, was to meet Mandela on Thursday evening with a personal plea to save the ailing peace process.

Arafat has approached Mandela, who is currently involved with the Burundi peace process, on previous occasions, but the Israeli response to his possible involvement has been lukewarm. If Mandela accepts, it could be an opportunity for South Africa to take the centre stage in resolving one of the worldOs most intractable disputes. Arafat is being blamed by both Clinton and the Israelis for the failure of the Camp David negotiations by refusing to make compromises on the question of east Jerusalem. Believed to be under tremendous pressure, he made a desperate plea to South Africa.

Addressing a joint press conference also addressed by President Thabo Mbeki on Thursday, Arafat said Palestine needed South AfricaOs help both as the head of the Non-Aligned Movement and as a OfriendO. Mbeki expressed support for the scheduled declaration of Palestinian statehood on September 13. He said all the countries that had persuaded Arafat to delay statehood for a year so as not to influence Israeli elections were now under a Omoral and political obligationO to support the Palestinians.

Arafat had consulted with Mandela and Mbeki last year. At issue then was his intention to declare an independent state on May 4 last year, which he then delayed. Mandela was scheduled to address a press conference late on Thursday to indicate his intentions about a possible role in the Middle East peace talks. Meanwhile, Burundian President Pierre Buyoya too arrived in South Africa on Thursday to hold talks with Mandela. The Mandela-proposed peace accord, which calls for setting up a transitional government integrating Hutu rebels into the Tutsi- dominated army, has been scheduled for signing on August 28. Buyoya, however, wants hostilities to end before the accord is signed.