By Diadie Ba

Dakar - Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade on Saturday stepped into a diplomatic row ahead of a United Nations conference on racism, saying the idea of reparations for the African slave trade was absurd.

The issue has become increasingly sensitive in the run-up to the conference in Durban, South Africa, which the United States has threatened to boycott if slavery reparations or discussions equating Zionism with racism are on the agenda.

Some African rights campaigners have pressed for the conference to declare colonialism and the slave trade, which thrived between Africa, Europe and the Americas for over 200 years until early in the 19th century, a "double Holocaust".

They have demanded compensation from former colonial powers.

Wade said he would go to the August 31-September 7 meeting and argue against any kind of monetary reparations for slavery.

"I am opposed to demanding financial recompense," Wade told reporters. "Slavery, the subjugation of a people for three centuries, cannot be evaluated in billions of dollars."

"It is absurd... that you could pay up a certain number of dollars and then slavery ceases to exist, is cancelled out and there is the receipt to prove it," he added.

"We still suffer the effects of slavery and colonialism, and that can not be evaluated in monetary terms. I find that not only absurd, but insulting," Wade said.

He noted there were African peoples who had sold slaves.

"Should they also pay up?" he asked. "Some of us have forbears who may not have sold slaves, but had slaves in their armies. I am talking about my own ancestors, who had 10 000 soldiers at that time, of which two thirds were slaves."

Delegations from countries taking part in the conference met in Geneva with United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson this week to try to resolve the row over Zionism and slavery reparations, but talks ended on Friday without an agreement.

Robinson, who has previously called for former colonial powers to "face up to and address the past", still hoped a consensus could be reached ahead of the Durban meeting.

Sources in Geneva said any deal was unlikely to include a formal apology, but would instead back aid to African states. - Reuters