In a conciliatory move aimed at ending black factional fighting, the African National Congress has proposed a meeting between Nelson Mandela and rival black leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

In its statement Monday, the ANC backed down from months of resistance to a Mandela-Buthelezi meeting. It did not say when the two should meet, only that such a meeting should take place in the "near future."Zulus loyal to Buthelezi's conservative Inkatha Freedom Party have been involved in bloody battles with ANC supporters since the mid-1980s.

Buthelezi said he welcomed the invitation for a meeting, which he said Inkatha had been pursuing "for some time now."

Mandela, who is visiting Australia, said Tuesday he hoped the meeting would ease tensions. Violence between ANC and Inkatha in black townships around Johannesburg has claimed about 800 lives since early August.

"Future meetings are important," Mandela told a news conference in Canberra. "You create a new atmosphere, an atmosphere of hope."