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De Klerk's Nigeria Visit Could Signal Turning Point

Meeting marks endorsement of South Africa reforms

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PRESIDENT Frederik de Klerk, responding to a new mood in Africa toward South Africa following his referendum victory, sets off for Nigeria today in what could be Pretoria's biggest diplomatic breakthrough in Africa.

Mr. De Klerk will meet Nigerian President Ibrahim Babangida, chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), in what diplomats say will be the most significant endorsement yet of his quest for a negotiated settlement with the black majority in South Africa. It is the first time a South African head of state will visit Nigeria.

"This could be the turning point for South Africa in its relations with Africa," said a Western diplomat.

Interracial negotiations have accelerated in South Africa since March 17, when white voters overwhelmingly backed De Klerk in a referendum on political reform.

But the African National Congress (ANC) criticized the Nigerian government for not waiting until an interim government was in place.

"It is too early to invite De Klerk - even if it is for a good cause," says ANC representative George Nene. "It is worse in a sense that the opinion has not been sought of major players."

Nigerian Foreign Minister Ike Nwachukwu counters that the decision was based on Nigeria's interests. "Our policies will not be dictated by anyone else's interests than our own," he says. Nigeria has given its full backing to the Convention for a Democratic South Africa, the interracial negotiating forum.

The meeting follows a summit of the seven southern African frontline states in Harare, Zimbabwe, March 28-29 that hailed the results of the referendum but expressed grave concern about escalating political violence in South Africa.

De Klerk is likely to face tough questions over increasing township violence and his government's apparent inability to curb it. In the past five weeks, about 420 people have died and more than 800 have been injured.

A team of international jurists found March 28 that free and fair elections would be impossible in South Africa until the violence is quieted, and they called for an impartial peacekeeping force to be stationed in trouble spots.

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