A group of African Union (AU) leaders has arrived in Benghazi, Libya to propose terms of a peace plan to rebels groups battling against Moammar Gaddafi.
Gaddafi had earlier accepted the AU peace deal, according to reports, terms of which include an immediate ceasefire between combatants in Libya, a cessation of air strikes by NATO-led coalition forces on Gaddafi’s military forces, and dialogue on political reforms, including justice, peace and security as well as socioeconomic development.
The peace proposal also allows for international humanitarian aid into the country and the protection of foreign nationals in Libya.
The AU delegation also includes representatives from South Africa, Mauritania, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.
However, Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa who is the most prominent member of the AU, did not personally accompany the delegation to Benghazi.
However, there is little chance that rebels will accept any terms that does not include the immediate departure of Gaddafi from his seat of power. Moreover, Libyan rebel groups reportedly regard the AU as being allied with Gaddafi, since he has long supported the African bloc’s activities financially.
In fact, during his visit to Tripoli, Zuma referred to Gaddafi as brother leader.
Rebel spokesman Mustafa Gheriani told Reuters the Libyan people have made it very clear that Gaddafi must step down.
Another rebel spokesman, Shamsiddin Abdulmolah, told Agence France Presse: The people must be allowed to go into the streets to express their opinion and the soldiers must return to their barracks. The world has seen these offers of ceasefires before and within 15 minutes [Col Gaddafi] starts shooting again.”
An AU official said the notion of Gaddafi stepping down was discussed, without providing further details.
There was some discussion on this but I cannot report on this. It has to remain confidential, said AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Ramtane Lamamra. It's up to the Libyan people to choose their leaders democratically.
Still, rebel groups have promised to study the AU peace plan, amidst a backdrop of what appears to be a military stalemate in Libya.
A BBC correspondent based in Kenya wrote: “The African Union does not have a good reputation when it comes to solving crises. On Libya it is sounding determined and maintains it is in the unique position of being able to speak to both… Gaddafi and the forces in Benghazi. But any intervention which does not involve the removal from power of… Gaddafi will be seen by some as the AU saving the Libyan leader. It has often been accused of standing up for the incumbents and is criticized as being a club which serves the interests of the continent's presidents more than the people.”
The BBC correspondent added: “The situation is muddied by money. Col Gaddafi has bankrolled the AU for years and he has bought friends in Africa. Having complained that the West was ignoring Africa's view on Libya and pushing for regime change, the AU has a chance to take the lead. Now the tough part - convincing the Libyan rebels to hold fire and talk.”
NATO appears to be mildly in favor of the AU’s initiatives.
Spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said NATO “always made it clear that there could be no purely military solution to this crisis. We welcome all contributions to the broad international effort aimed at stopping the violence against the civilian population in Libya.
However, another NATO official was quoted as saying that the military offensive in Libya will continue.
Our aircraft are still flying and when we see a threat to civilians, we will engage, the official said.