African leaders resume talks on Libya

2011-07-01 11:00

African Union leaders gathered again today to thrash out sticking points on a roadmap to end Libya’s conflict amid pressure from the Libyan rebels for Muammar Gaddafi to leave power.

“It is a crucial issue, a crucial day,” African Union Commission chairperson Jean Ping told AFP as the heads of state arrived to resume closed-door talks that broke up in the early morning hours without agreement.

A panel of African presidents is seeking backing for their roadmap towards peace, with the issue dominating the African Union summit that wraps up today in the Equatorial Guinea capital.

The plan envisages a ceasefire, humanitarian aid, a transition period, reforms towards democracy and elections, but the position on the future of Gaddafi has not been made clear and appears to be the main stumbling block.

A rebel delegation at the talks insists that Gaddafi must quit after more than 40 years in power and also backs an International Criminal Court arrest warrant for him.

“He must leave,” National Transitional Council representative Mansour Safy Al-Nasr told journalists as leaders including South Africa’s Jacob Zuma and Goodluck Jonathan from Nigeria were locked in discussions late Wednesday.

Asked if he thought the conflict would be resolved through political or military means, he said: “We are ready for anything.”

The rebels were prepared to end hostilities if Gaddafi left, he said.

“If we see that Gaddafi withdraws, we are ready to stop and negotiate with our brothers who are around Gaddafi,” he said.

But the rebels would not retreat, “not this time”, he said.

“If military operations advance to surround Tripoli, he will accept (to leave). Gaddafi is isolated. He is in his bunker. He cannot move, he does not have a life,” Al-Nasr said.

“The troops are advancing,” he added, referring to Libyan rebel forces.

Senior Libyan rebel leader Mahmud Jibril said in Vienna he wanted “a clear stance” from the African Union on whether it supported or condemned Gaddafi.

The ICC arrest warrants are for the Libyan leader, his son and Libya’s intelligence chief for atrocities in the crackdown on the uprising that erupted after rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt toppled their long-time leaders early this year.

“These arrest warrants reflect the international conviction that massacres did take place,” Jibril told journalists yesterday.

“I urge the African Union to take a clear stance,” he said.

The 53-nation African Union is under pressure to find a solution to the conflict after criticising the UN-mandated Nato-led air strikes against Gaddafi’s forces and insisting on “African solutions” to the continent’s problems.

The summit opened yesterday with the union critical of France’s air-drop of weapons to the rebels to defend themselves, warning that the guns could fall into the hands of al-Qaeda militants active in north Africa.

Libya’s rebel council has thanked France for the supplies but Russia and other nations accuse Paris of going beyond UN authorisation.

“There should be no doubt that Libyans in the Nafusa mountain area are alive and safe today thanks to a combination of heroic Libyan bravery and French wisdom and support,” Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, the vice-president of the National Transitional Council, said late yesterday.

Today, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, on a visit to Moscow, said France had informed members of the UN Security Council and Nato about the arms drop this week and said it only included defensive weapons meant to protect civilians and was therefore in line with existing UN resolutions on Libya.

Rebel demands for Gaddafi to go was something for the two sides to negotiate and was not up to the African Union, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Elorabi said in Malabo yesterday.

“These kind of internal conditions – it is up to the two parties in Libya,” Elorabi said.

“The spirit here is that we want space for the political solution.”

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