Libyan rebels reject African Union peace plan

Plan to halt civil war flounders with fighting raging over Misurata and NATO refusing to suspend its air campaign.

    Libyan rebels have rejected an African Union peace plan because it did not address their main demand that Muammar Gaddafi quit and because it proposed reforming a ruling system they want removed.

    "The African Union initiative does not include the departure of Gaddafi and his sons from the Libyan political scene, therefore it is outdated," rebel council head Mustafa Abdel Jalil told a news conference in Benghazi on Monday.

    He said the rebel council demanded Gaddafi leave from the very first day it was set up.

    Council spokesman Hafiz Ghoga also told the conference: "The initiative speaks of reforms from within the Libyan system and that is rejected."

    The conference was held after talks with a delegation of African heads of state a day after Gaddafi accepted the peace proposal.

    South African President Jacob Zuma said Tripoli had accepted the African Union's plan for a ceasefire which would halt the NATO bombing campaign.

    "We also in this communique are making a call on NATO to cease the bombings to allow and to give a ceasefire a chance," Zuma stressed.

    Zuma did not travel from Tripoli to Benghazi with the rest of the delegation, to the surprise of the rebels, but issued a statement when he got home saying the mission was "a huge success".

    The AU mission was met with scepticism as rebels said they would only agree to a ceasefire if Muammar Gaddafi's forces were to be withdrawn from towns and streets, and freedom of expression was permitted across Libya.

    The AU had said Gaddafi accepted a roadmap to peace, but refused to say whether the deal included his resignation--a key demand for rebels.

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    Hundreds of people waving Libyan rebel flags had gathered outside the airport when the African Union delegation arrived, welcoming its efforts but demanding Gaddafi's overthrow.

    International reaction

    The African Union's plan has been given a cautious welcome in capitals around the world, with British foreign secretary William Hague stating that any ceasefire agreement must meet the terms of UN resolutions in full.

    Franco Frattini, Italian foreign minister, said it was unlikely Gaddafi would respect any ceasefire, "after the horrific crimes enacted".

    And NATO's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said that any ceasefire must be "credible and verifiable".

    Jacob Zuma, the South African president, said Tripoli had "accepted" the African Union's plan for a ceasefire which would halt a NATO bombing campaign that destroyed 26 loyalist tanks on Sunday alone.

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    But the rebels doubt the Libyan leader would adhere to such a deal.

    "The world has seen these offers of ceasefires before and within 15 minutes [Gaddafi] starts shooting again," Abdulmolah said.

    The rebels have said they would negotiate a political transition to democracy with certain senior regime figures but only on the condition that Gaddafi and his sons leave the country.

    Al Jazeera's Laurence Lee, reporting from Benghazi, said there is "clearly a question over what people think the motivation of the AU visit is."

    People are asking whether it is a "genuine attempt at conflict resolution" or whether it is "an attempt by people who have close economic and political ties to Gaddafi to try and shore up the appearance of legitimacy," he said,

    The revolt against Gaddafi's 41-year reign began as a wave of protests across the country in late February but soon escalated into a civil war after Gaddafi's troops fired on demonstrators and the rebels seized several eastern towns.

    The battle for Libya's third largest city, Misurata,continues, as Gaddafi's troops shell two neighbourhoods. The city has been the scene of fierce battles in recent weeks and has been largely closed off to reporters.

    "Heavy and fierce fighting is now taking place at the eastern entrance to the city and in the centre ... on Tripoli Street," a resident named Abdelsalam told Reuters by telephone.

    Recapturing Ajdabiya

    The government's troops have also pushed the rebels back on the eastern front, launching a major attack on the town of Ajdabiya on Saturday before being repelled by rebel forces.

    Rebels reclaim Ajdabiya, a city that has borne the
    brunt of the constantly shifting frontlines [Al Jazeera]

    Libyans outside the airport echoed the rebels' official demands, saying they appreciated the African Union's efforts but wanted Gaddafi to step down.

    "The main thing we want is for Gaddafi and his family to get out and to be judged ... And we want the withdrawal of all troops from the towns," Azza Hussein, a doctor waiting with the crowds outside the airport, said.

    "Gaddafi is a big liar, so we are afraid if there is a ceasefire he won't follow it," Abdullah Barud, 17, another protester, said.

    In the 1990s, Gaddafi oriented Libya away from the Arab world and towards the sub-Sahara, calling for a "United States of Africa"and cultivating close ties with a number of rulers and some rebel movements.

    Libya has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in tourism, telecommunications, banking and agriculture across several sub-Saharan countries via the Libya Africa Portfolio (LAP).

    The rebels have accused Gaddafi of deploying African mercenariesagainst them - without providing much hard evidence - and have said they would be raising the subject with the delegation.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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