Zuma used phone call from Gaddafi ‘to take him to task’

2011-03-10 14:22

The government today sought to counter criticism of President Jacob Zuma for taking a phone call from Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, with top officials saying he used the exchange to condemn Tripoli’s violent crackdown on dissidents.

International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said Zuma took advantage of the call from Gaddafi to tell him South Africa abhorred the “heinous violation” of human rights against his own people.

She told a media briefing in Pretoria: “The president took advantage of that call to tell him that South Africa has led a campaign to suspend Libya from the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“We took advantage, through our president, to tell him this [the human rights violations] has to stop with immediate effect,” she said.

Deputy International Relations Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim sent a similar message during members’ statements in the National Assembly after Cope MP Smuts Ngonyama said a soft stance would compromise the government and the constitution.

“The president asked Colonel Gaddafi that he should immediately stop the violence. The president condemned the acts of violence against unarmed civilians and reiterated our support for the United Nations Security Council resolution,” Ebrahim said.

Yesterday Zuma’s office refused to confirm or deny BBC reports crediting Libyan television on what he said to the embattled Libyan leader.

Libyan TV quoted Zuma as calling on the African Union (AU) to “take decisive action and uncover the conspiracy that Libya is facing”.

Zuma, who is out of the country attending the AU Security Council meeting in Ethiopia, was quoted as “stressing the need not to depend on tendentious reports circulated by foreign media outlets and the need to listen to the Libyan media in this regard”.

His office issued a statement yesterday saying that it “would not be drawn into rumours and distortions of the conversation with Gaddafi, who had called to explain his side of the story”.

The presidency said Zuma had spoken out “clearly” on the Libyan issue, openly condemning the loss of life, attacks on civilians and reported violations of human rights in Libya.

Nkoana-Mashabane said today that South Africa not only supported, but co-sponsored all resolutions against Libya at the United Nations Security Council.

She said it was critical to remember that Zuma had taken Gaddafi to task on various occasions, as when he tried to perpetuate his idea for the passing of a resolution on a United States of Africa, and when he tried to remain a permanent president of the AU.

Protests against the 68-year-old Gaddafi began on February 15 as anti-government demonstrators sought to oust him after nearly 42 years of rule.
Conflict in the North African country still raged on today amid condemnation by world leaders.

Twenty-eight defence ministers met in Brussels today to discuss the international community’s response to the situation.

Nkoana-Mashabane said the matter was also being discussed by the AU peace security council. Libya’s fate as member of the AU was expected to feature.

The status of Libya’s ambassador to South Africa, Abdullah Alzubedi, who has refused to resign, would also be tabled.

Alzubedi, who has denounced Gaddafi’s regime, said he wanted to resign, but would not because he wanted to help Libyans, mostly students, in South Africa.

Asked whether she thought Gaddafi respected the resolutions by the AU and UN, Nkoane-Mashabane replied: “If aerial bombardment of civilians would have stopped, I would have said, yes, he is beginning to show signs of wanting to respect UN Security Council and calls by the international community.

“I don’t have evidence that he is beginning to take heed of these calls.” 

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