PARIS (AP) _ South African President P.W. Botha arrived here today on a 48-hour private, and controversial visit to inaugurate a memorial to South African war dead.

The visit has prompted protests in France and Africa.

French Premier Jacques Chirac said he was not personally opposed to meeting with Botha, in order to reaffirm French opposition to apartheid. But he said he realized such an encounter would have offended African nations, and he decided against it.

Only a local French official will accompany Botha on Tuesday to the inauguration of the war memorial to South African dead of two World Wars at Longueval, in northern France.

South African troops fought for the Allies in both conflicts. More than 18,000 died, including 2,500 killed in the ferocious three-day battle of Delville Wood in World War I.

Secretary of State for Veterans Georges Fontes had originally been designated to accompany Botha, but later said he did not have the time because of Armistice Day ceremonies in Paris.

France's largest union, the Confederation Generale du Travail, or CGT, is among the French groups protesting Botha's visit.

Botha was accompanied to France by a large South African delegation. No details were given by South African authorities of Botha's schedule and French officials said they had no information because it was a private visit.