Libyan trip a success: Zuma


President Jacob Zuma has returned from his visit to Libya and Mauritania, undertaken as part of the African Union ad-hoc High Level Committee on Libya aimed at working towards a peaceful solution to the Libyan crisis and labelled the trip “a huge success” on his return this morning.

The committee met in Mauritania Saturday before heading for Tripoli yesterday, where they met embattled strongman Muammar Gadhafi. Reuters reports while Gadhafi accepted an AU plan put forward by Zuma to end civil war there, rebels said there could be no deal unless he leaves power. It also noted there had been no sign of a let-up in the fighting.

Zuma took his leave of the committee after the meeting, returning home briefly to ready for departure tomorrow to China tomorrow to attend South Africa’s first meeting as a member of the Brazil-Russia-India-China grouping, which has since been known as BRICS following South Africa’s membership. The rest of the committee headed for Benghazi to meet “with the opposition”, Zuma’s spoksman Zizi Kodwa said in a statement.

Speaking at Air Force Base Waterkloof on his return, Zuma said “Our visit was a huge success. The Libyan leader … accepted the road map of the AU which in our view will enable the AU to assist Libya towards lasting peace and democracy. Only an inclusive dialogue among the Libyan parties on the appropriate reforms will ensure a lasting solution in Libya. South Africa, as a member of the panel, is very happy with the outcome of the meeting”.

Kodwa noted the Peace and Security Council of the AU a month ago adopted a roadmap for “the resolution of the situation in Libya” that included the immediate cessation of all hostilities, the “cooperation of the competent Libyan authorities to facilitate the timely delivery of humanitarian assistance to the needy populations”, the protection of foreign nationals, including the African migrants living in Libya, and the adoption and implementation of the political reforms necessary for the elimination of the causes of the current crisis.” Kodwa dds it is this roadmap Gadhafi agreed to.

Reuters reports the insurgents said ahead of the meeting they would accept no plan that allowed Gaddafi to stay in power. “Prospects for a ceasefire looked remote,” it stated. Libyan officials have repeatedly said that Gaddafi, who holds no official state position, will not quit.

Officials from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which is bombing Libyan government armour under a United Nations mandate to protect civilians, said they took note of the AU proposal but the alliance would continue operations while civilians were at risk. “It does not appear that this indication of a peace deal has any substance at this point,” said one NATO official in reference to the ongoing shelling of Misrata. The African Union does not have a good track record in brokering peace deals, having failed recently to end conflict or disputes in Somalia, Madagascar and Ivory Coast, Reuters added.

The alliance stepped up attacks on Gaddafi’s armour over the weekend, destroying 25 tanks around Misrata and Ajdabiyah.

An AU statement after the Tripoli talks made no mention of Gaddafi’s future. Asked if the issue of him stepping aside was discussed, Ramtane Lamamra, AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, told reporters: “There was some discussion.” However he added: “I cannot report on confidential discussions because first of all I was not part of them.” Zuma also did not make mention of Gadhafi’s future in his statement.

Asked if he feared rebels might reject the plan, Lamamra said: “We believe what we have proposed is broad enough to launch negotiations … What we need is for them to accept that we are people of good will.”