Rebels sought Zuma-Gadafy meeting, report says

 

SOUTH AFRICAN president Jacob Zuma’s meeting with Col Muammar Gadafy next week was prompted by a request from Libyan rebels who want the country’s long-standing leader to agree to a ceasefire, a South African newspaper reported yesterday.

Mr Zuma is scheduled to meet Col Gadafy on Monday as part of African Union (AU) efforts to broker a peaceful resolution to the internal conflict that erupted in the north African country three months ago between pro-democracy groups and the ruling regime.

Western leaders and Libya’s rebels have consistently insisted Col Gadafy must stand down before peace talks can take place.

But South Africa’s respected Mail & Guardiannewspaper yesterday quoted a source close to Mr Zuma as saying Libyan rebels were the impetus behind the latest AU-sponsored diplomatic efforts.

“Representatives of the rebels came to the president and asked him to please have a discussion with Gadafy about the way forward,” the source said. “The president is going to see if he can bring sanity to the issues. He wants to have a real discussion, and for that to happen, more than three people in the room is a problem. He can’t take other people along.”

In early April, Mr Zuma was part of an AU delegation that met Col Gadafy to discuss a ceasefire.Following those talks a statement was released by the mission saying the Libyan leader had agreed to stop hostilities. However, within hours of the AU delegation leaving Libya, Col Gadafy’s forces attacked pro-democracy supporters around the country.

After word of Mr Zuma’s second trip to Libya emerged on Thursday, his spokesman Zizi Kodwa said the AU was keen Mr Zuma used the ANC’s connections with Col Gadafy’s regime as a way to bolster the talks.

South Africa’s former liberation movement has had close ties with the Libyan government since the apartheid era – a relationship that continued after the South African transition to democracy in the mid-1990s. “The AU appreciates the historical relationship between Libya and South Africa and therefore feels that the president is best placed for this mission,” Mr Kodwa said.

Mr Kodwa added that Mr Zuma blamed Nato’s bombing campaign for aggravating the Libyan crisis as it had hardened attitudes on all sides of the conflict. The big prize, he said, would be if Col Gadafy came away from his meeting with Mr Zuma with a realistic “appreciation for the situation” he was in.

“The situation has deteriorated so badly, talks are needed urgently. You can flatten Tripoli, you can flatten Brega, but at some point, there will need to be talks.”