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Originally published Tuesday, September 27, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Swazi king's new fiancée 17 years old

King Mswati III has chosen a 17-year-old as his bride-to-be, selecting a teenager just a month after retreating from a campaign to encourage...

The Associated Press

NHLANGANO, Swaziland — King Mswati III has chosen a 17-year-old as his bride-to-be, selecting a teenager just a month after retreating from a campaign to encourage girls to wait until they are 18 to have sex.

Ntfonjeni Dlamini, in charge of traditional matters for the royal family, told state radio Sunday that the chosen girl is Phindile Nkambule. Students at the private high school she had attended in the capital said they had heard she was dropping out to marry the king.

In 2001, Mswati temporarily revived the ancient "umchwasho" rite, which bans sexual relations for girls younger than 18 in a bid to fight AIDS. About 40 percent of this African nation's 1 million people are infected with HIV.

But the rite — symbolized by the wearing of woolen tassels — was ridiculed as old-fashioned and unfairly focused on girls. In August, the king announced he was ending the ban a year early.

Speculation that Phindile would be the next royal bride has been rife since she was seen being driven by royal bodyguards at the time of the annual reed dance, which came days after the king ended the umchwasho ban.

According to tradition, the king is meant to select a bride at the reed dance, the culmination of a rite of spring at which girls gather reeds to build a wind break for the queen mother. Phindile was among the thousands of girls who performed before the king at the reed dance.

According to Swazi tradition, the king is always meant to have a bride in waiting but can marry her only when she is pregnant. Mswati, 37, has 12 wives, one other bride-to-be and 27 children.

Some Swazis question whether ancient traditions fit modern needs. Mswati's lavish lifestyle, including fine homes and cars for all his wives and brides-to-be, contrasts with the absolute poverty of most of his subjects.

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