Zuma headed for Libya


President Jacob Zuma will next Monday visit Tripoli for a discussion with Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the Presidency says. Zuma will stop over in Tripoli on 30 May, in his capacity as a member of the African Union High Level Panel for the Resolution of Conflict in Libya.

The President will go to Libya after attending the inauguration of President-elect Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, the state BuaNews agency reports. “The President will use the opportunity to strengthen the warm relations between Nigeria and South Africa,” his office said.

Although his office did not divulge what was up for discussion between Zuma and Gaddafi, some media reports have speculated that an exit strategy for the embattled Libyan leader might feature on the agenda.

It is still not clear if the death of South African photographer Anton Hammerl will come up during the discussion. Last week, International Relations said Libyan authorities assured them that Hammerl was in custody and was well. News emerged last Thursday that the lensman had been killed by Gaddafi loyalists at the beginning of April.

Zuma’s visit to Libya also comes as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is continuing air strikes against forces loyal to Gaddafi, while rebels battle his troops in a bid to end his four-decade rule. A NATO airstrike killed 19 people and injured over 130 others in Tripoli overnight on Tuesday, Libyan government spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, said. He said the air raid, the heaviest against the capital in more than two months, lasted over one hour, and also caused huge property damage.

The NATO military carried out over a dozen attacks against “barracks of the people’s guards,” who are volunteer units supporting the government forces, BuaNews-Xinhua said. Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya residence was also severely damaged, and the windows of some civilian buildings several kilometers from the residence were shattered. Locals said the raid caused them to panic as they failed to find shelters

Meanwhile, Zuma has wished President Nicolas Sarkozy of France well for the G8 Summit to be held in France on Friday. Zuma is unable to attend the G8 forum “due to pressing domestic commitments,” and has sent the Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to the summit instead. Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe is currently representing Zuma and the country at the Africa-India Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.