Qaddafi and Zuma Meet But Reach No Agreement

by
May 31, 2011

By , The New York Times

TRIPOLI, Libya — Talks between President Jacob Zuma of South Africa and Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi ended Monday with no sign of the breakthrough Libyan officials had said they hoped for. The outcome appeared to leave the Tripoli government and its rebel foes still mired in the stalemate that has settled over the conflict, and NATO with the prospect of an extended campaign of airstrikes in its bid to topple the Libyan leader.

Mr. Zuma, at the end of a six-hour mission to the Libyan capital, listed Colonel Qaddafi’s conditions for peace, which included an immediate cease-fire followed by talks with the rebels. But there was no sign that the Libyan ruler had made any concession on the issue at the center of the stalemate in the conflict, his rejection of demands that he abandon power and seek exile outsideLibya.

The demand for Colonel Qaddafi to quit has been set by rebel leaders in eastern Libya and backed by the NATO countries leading the 10-week-old campaign of airstrikes against the Qaddafi government, and was joined last week by Russia, long considered a Qaddafi ally. But the Libyan leader, despite a succession of heavy bombing strikes on his command compound in Tripoli in the past month, has held fast to his vow to hang on to power.

The failure of Monday’s talks, the first major diplomatic mission to Tripoli since a previous Zuma-led visit in early April, was underlined by the Qaddafi government’s silence in the hours after Mr. Zuma left.

The South African leader, however, spoke to reporters from the state-run broadcasting networks of South Africa and Libya before he boarded a South African military aircraft for the flight home.

He said Colonel Qaddafi had insisted that “all Libyans be given a chance to talk among themselves” about the country’s future, a formulation the government has repeatedly used to reject the possibility of Colonel Qaddafi’s going into exile.

Mr. Zuma said Colonel Qaddafi was ready to accept the so-called African road map for peace, a plan first advanced during the earlier Zuma trip here. The plan calls for an immediate cease-fire, including a halt to NATO bombing, international supervision of the truce, and negotiations between Tripoli and the rebels on a political settlement.

Colonel Qaddafi accepted that plan in April, but quickly ignored it and resumed his offensive against the rebels. The rebel leaders rejected it outright, as they did again on Monday.

“It is only some stuff that Qaddafi wants to announce to stay in power,” the rebel foreign minister, Fathi Baja, told reporters in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

The Zuma visit was widely trumpeted in advance by officials in Tripoli, who have come to see the African Union as a last bastion of diplomatic support. For decades, Colonel Qaddafi has sought to reach out across barriers of culture, faith and geography to promote solidarity between the continent’s Arab and African peoples, and to present himself, as posters around Tripoli proclaim him, as the “king of kings” among African leaders.

But Mr. Zuma’s departure appeared to leave the Tripoli government in an increasingly tenuous and isolated position. Beyond the NATO bombing and rebel advances in the east, Colonel Qaddafi has faced a growing erosion of his power base in Tripoli, with an acceleration of defections from his ruling elite.

The erosion gathered pace on Monday when eight senior Libyan Army officers, including five generals, appeared at a news conference in Rome and appealed to fellow officers to join the revolt against Colonel Qaddafi, according to The Associated Press.

One of the officers, Gen. Melud Massoud Halasa, said Colonel Qaddafi’s military forces were “only 20 percent as effective” as they were before the revolt broke out in mid-February.

To read more, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/31/world/africa/31libya.html?_r=1

 

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