Libya: Gaddafi government accepts peace plan, says Zuma

South African President Jacob Zuma says the Libyan government has accepted an African Union peace plan to end the eight-week-old conflict.

Mr Zuma and three other African leaders met Libya’s leader, Col Muammar Gaddafi, in Tripoli on Sunday. They are now going on to the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

In Ajdabiya, pro-Gaddafi forces have pushed back rebels in fierce fighting. Nato says its planes destroyed 25 government tanks on Sunday alone.

The African Union’s road map calls for an immediate cease-fire, opening channels for humanitarian aid and talks between the rebels and the government.

“The brother leader [Col Gaddafi] delegation has accepted the roadmap as presented by us,” Mr Zuma declared.

“We have to give the ceasefire a chance,” he said, after several hours of talks. The details of the plan would be set out later in a statement, Mr Zuma said.

The British-based representative of the Libyan opposition leadership, Guma al-Gamaty, has told the BBC that they would look carefully at the AU plan, but that any deal designed to keep Colonel Gaddafi or his sons in place would not be acceptable.

Tanks destroyed Nato air strikes have been continuing: the alliance says its planes destroyed 25 government tanks on Sunday alone.

Eleven were reportedly destroyed as they approached Ajdabiya and 14 were destroyed earlier near Misrata, the only city in western Libya still in rebel hands.

Accusing government forces of “brutally shelling” civilian areas, Nato said it was responding to a desperate situation in the two towns, under its UN mandate to protect civilians.

Reuters news agency photos said to have been taken near Ajdabiya after a Nato air strike on Sunday showed a number of charred bodies lying beside burnt-out pick-up trucks, on at least one of which a heavy machine-gun was mounted.

It is one of the biggest series of air strikes since the coalition’s initial onslaught, the BBC’s Jon Leyne reports from Benghazi.

‘Dialogue’

In all, the African Union mission comprises representatives from five nations: presidents Jacob Zuma of South Africa, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania, Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali and Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo, and Uganda’s Foreign Minister Henry Oryem Okello.

The mission has called for an “immediate end” to fighting, “diligent conveying of humanitarian aid” and “dialogue between the Libyan parties”.

Earlier, a statement from the South African presidency said: “The [African Union] committee has been granted permission by Nato to enter Libya and to meet in Tripoli with… [Col] Gaddafi. The AU delegation will also meet with the Interim Transitional National Council in Benghazi on 10 and 11 April.”

The five-strong panel was approved by the European Union to mediate in Libya.

Panel spokesman President Abdel Aziz said: “The main objective of the panel is to put an end to the war and to find an adequate solution to the crisis.”

The mission faces a difficult task as the rebels have refused to discuss a ceasefire without the removal of Col Gaddafi and his family.

Our correspondent also says that the AU team’s plan for the two sides to work together in a transition to democracy looks to be a non-starter.

He says neither side appears ready to make the compromises necessary for a ceasefire.

Col Gaddafi has ignored his own ceasefires in the past, including one announced immediately after the UN authorised a no-fly zone over Libya.

‘Helicopters downed’ Fierce fighting has been raging for a second day in Ajdabiya.

Heavy gunfire and loud explosions were heard in the town on Sunday, with reports of intense shelling of the town from the west, from where pro-Gaddafi forces are attacking.
The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen was taken on a government-approved tour of Misrata
One rebel to the east of Ajdabiya told Reuters: “There is resistance inside the city. Gaddafi forces are fighting with rebels. They have a presence inside.”

Another said: “There are Gaddafi forces inside Ajdabiya in sand-coloured Land Cruisers and we know there are Gaddafi snipers in civilian clothing in the city as well.”

Ajdabiya is important to the opposition as it controls a strategic crossroads and is the last town before the main rebel city of Benghazi.

Rebel forces had advanced towards Brega on Saturday but were forced back by a counter-attack.

Our correspondent says that once again, Libyan government forces have shown they are able to operate in a much more sophisticated way than the opposition.

They outmanoeuvred the rebels by coming in from the desert.

Our correspondent says the rebels reported capturing Algerian mercenaries from Col Gaddafi’s forces, though this cannot be independently verified.

Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said government forces had shot down two rebel helicopters in the east but this also cannot be confirmed.

He said: “A clear violation was committed by the rebels to [UN] resolution 1973 relating to the no-fly zone.”

Speaking in Brussels, the commander of the Nato operation, Lt Gen Charles Bouchard, said that air strikes were also targeting government ammunition bunkers and lines of communication.

He cited as “an example of Nato impartiality” a report that a MiG 23 jet flown by rebel forces had been intercepted and forced to land within minutes of taking off from Benina Airfield near Benghazi on Saturday.


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