The 12 European Community foreign ministers agreed to lift the ban on imports of iron, steel and Krugerrand gold coins from South Africa, leaving only U.N. and U.S. sanctions in place against the white minority-ruled nation.

The move Monday followed a decision by European heads of state in December to lift the ban on new investments in South Africa in recognition of President Frederik de Klerk's initiatives to abolish the system of racial separation known as apartheid."There is a consensus that sanctions against South Africa on steel and iron and gold coins should be lifted," German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher said.

The decision means that only United Nations sanctions prohibiting military cooperation, the import and export of weapons, and a ban on South African participation in international sports events such as the Olympics remain in effect.

De Klerk called the news "positive and most encouraging."

A spokesman for the African National Congress, the largest anti-apartheid organization in South Africa, called the decision "unfortunate."

"It is a setback for the struggle as a whole," spokesman Joel Netshitenjzhe said in Johannesburg, South Africa. "It does not assist the struggle of our people. . . . Although there have been many changes promised on the part of the government, not much concrete has been done to clear the obstacles to free political activity."

"The (apartheid) laws have not as yet been fully abolished," Netshitenjzhe said.