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Bid to drop apartheid suits

Lawyers who have brought class-action suits against international companies in a bid to win reparations for victims of apartheid in South Africa said on Tuesday they could suspend legal action as a result of a church mediation bid.

Lawyers who have brought class-action suits against international companies in a bid to win reparations for victims of apartheid in South Africa said on Tuesday they could suspend legal action as a result of a church mediation bid.

Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane told AFX Global Ethics Monitor, a new service provided by Agence France-Presse, that his proposals for "a forum for dialogue," had met with a "positive response from the victims' groups... as well as the lawyers."

The archbishop would not reveal the identities of any corporations contacted in connection with his proposals, but said "we are talking to people in business... we're trying to find out some agreeable formula".

John Ngcebetsha, a South African lawyer, who has filed lawsuits with United States attorney Ed Fagan against companies under the auspices of the Apartheid Claims Taskforce (ACT).

He said the plaintiffs had held talks with Ndungane, and "gave him the go ahead" to pursue mediation.

"We would welcome an amicable solution. Lawsuits are a last resort," he said, adding that his legal team had offered to "suspend the legal action, provided the defendants come to the table with the right attitude".

Mining companies, banks being sued Bishop Rubin Phillip of the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal confirmed the Archbishop of Cape Town's plan to mediate a settlement included lawsuits filed by ACT and by Jubilee South Africa - a coalition of 4 000 non-governmental organisations.

Ngcebetsha and Fagan have filed suits against companies like British-based mining company Anglo American and Swiss banks UBS and the Credit Suisse group.

The Jubilee South Africa suit alleges that 20 companies, including US-German auto giant DaimlerChrysler, aided and abetted the apartheid regime.

But Ndungane, who was at a synod of bishops in Durban, said: "For the good of South Africa, and nation-building, we should pursue dialogue and see what we can come up with... I don't want to talk about guilt."

He said he hoped to "enable the litigants and defendants in the class-action case to have a forum for dialogue, to try to resolve the issue through negotiation rather than going through the courts".

Terms of Holocaust settlement. Asked whether he was envisaging a settlement along the lines of Germany's Holocaust victims' fund, Ndungane said: "We have no idea what the end game will be.

"The modalities of where we take the process from there will be determined by the people round the table."

In July 2000, Germany signed a deal with the United States and Holocaust survivors to create a 10 billion deutschmark compensation fund, stipulating payment could not begin until all legal claims originated in the United States against Germany and its industries were dropped.

Other companies that Fagan and Ngcebetsha have signalled may face action from the ACT include Bayer, Eli Lilly, El DuPont de Nemours and Dow Chemicals. - Sapa-AFP

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