African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela Friday offered to meet the head of a rival group to discuss ways to end township clashes that have claimed nearly 1,700 lives this year.

Mandela said Inkatha chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi was his friend and insisted the two groups must end their rivalry. For months, the ANC has refused to deal directly with Buthelezi, blaming Inkatha for the violence."I remain indebted to him because of our friendship and the support that he has given to me," Mandela said in an interview with state-run South African Broadcasting Corp.

A statement from Buthelezi Friday said the ANC proposed an Oct. 5 meeting with him and other black homeland chiefs. Homelands were set up by the white government as separate states for blacks under the apartheid system.

Buthelezi, who seeks to be acknowledged as the nation's second black leader, said he would attend as the head of Inkatha. He also said he wants reassurances on the ANC's sincerity about ending the violence before accepting.

Much of the violence in townships around Johannesburg has been between ANC supporters and Inkatha loyalists.