CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) _ President Nelson Mandela expressed his willingness Thursday to meet with rebels in neighboring Angola to try to halt that country's 19-year-old civil war.

After meeting with U.N. officials and diplomats involved in deadlocked Angolan peace talks, Mandela said he was open to talking with Jonas Savimbi, the rebel leader formerly backed by South Africa's apartheid regime.

Mandela said he had met previously with Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and knew his positions on key issues.

Noting oil- and diamond-rich Angola's abundant natural resources, Mandela said restoring peace would benefit the entire region.

Mandela became South Africa's first black president after the historic all- race election in April. The relatively peaceful transition from white minority rule to a black-led government has made Mandela a leading figure in African affairs.

The Angolan peace talks, begun seven months ago in Zambia, have stalled over rebel demands for administrative control over areas where their support is strongest.

Officials at the U.N.-sponsored talks said Wednesday negotiators from the government and the rebels supported asking Mandela to step in.

Angola's civil war broke out on the eve of independence from Portugal in 1975. It became one of the Cold War era's most devastating proxy battles, with the Soviet Union and Cuba backing the once-Marxist government against the rebels, supported by the United States and South Africa.

A peace treaty led to elections in 1992 won by dos Santos and his ruling party. But Savimbi refused to accept the result and resumed fighting last year.

Since 1975, an estimated 500,000 people have died in fighting or from war- related starvation and disease.