By Carien du Plessis
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Six African leaders propose that Ukraine accept opening peace talks with Russia even as Russian troops remain on its soil, South Africa's presidency said on Monday, as South African officials prepare to visit both countries to sell the idea.
Ukraine has said Russian troops must withdraw from its territory before talks start, while Moscow wants Kyiv to recognise Russian sovereignty over Crimea, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014, as a precondition for negotiations. Russian forces carried out a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
"First is the cessation of hostilities. Second is a framework for lasting peace," South African Presidency Spokesman Vincent Magwenya said.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the initiative on May 16. President Macky Sall of Senegal, last year's African Union chairman whose country was not present at the latest U.N. vote condemning Russia in February this year, leads the initiative.
It includes presidents Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt and Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia - which both voted for the resolution - and Congo Republic's Denis Sassou Nguesso, and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, which both abstained.
The peace mission is expected to travel to both Moscow and Kiyv in early June.
"My President made it very clear ... (There will be) no talks between Ukraine and Russia unless Russians leave our territory within its internationally recognised borders," Ukraine's ambassador to South Africa Liubov Abravitova said in a text message.
But she added: "We will receive all delegates and speak to them". A spokesman for Russia's embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The London-based Brazzaville Foundation, brain child of a wealthy French commodities trader, convened the peace mission partly in order "to secure agreements to release critical grain cargos and fertilisers for shipment to Africa," it said in a May 16 statement.
Africa's most vulnerable have suffered greatly from the shocks to food and energy prices caused by the war.
In response to the African plan, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said it would "welcome any successful effort to convince (Russian President) Vladimir Putin to end his war of territorial aggression".
(Reporting by Carien du Plessis; Editing by Tim Cocks and Grant McCool)