Libyan rebels reject proposal to end fighting


BENGHAZI, Libya — Libyan rebels delivered an emphatic no to an African Union proposal for an end to fighting in their country, insisting that Moammar Gadhafi must step down from power as part of any diplomatic solution.

The opposition council’s announcement after
closed-door talks with an African Union delegation in the rebel-held
city of Benghazi quashed hopes for an early end to the nearly
2-month-old conflict between Gadhafi’s forces and opposition fighters
in eastern Libya.

South African President Jacob Zuma said late Sunday after meeting with Gadhafi in Tripoli, the capital, that Libya’s
leader had endorsed the African Union’s roadmap for peace. The proposal
includes a cease-fire, the establishment of safe corridors for the
delivery of humanitarian aid, and a dialogue on reforming Libya’s political system, which Gadhafi has ruled for more than four decades.

Zuma’s comments hinted at a possible diplomatic opening for ending Libya’s stalemate, but the head of the opposition’s political council Mustafa Abdul Jalil summarily dismissed the proposal after the closed-door talks with the African Union delegation.

“The African Union initiative does not include the
departure of Gadhafi and his sons from the Libyan political scene,
therefore it is outdated,” Jalil said. “We will not negotiate on the
blood of our martyrs. We will die with them or be victorious.”

Jalil said the proposal had been around for more
than a month. Rebels also complained that the initiative did not call
for Gadhafi to withdraw his forces from besieged cities and did not
allow protests, the latter a key opposition demand.

Gadhdafi lost control of eastern Libya in February when anti-government demonstrations, inspired by the ouster of the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia, sparked a full-fledged revolt against the autocratic leader.

The eastern rebels were skeptical of the African
Union even before the delegation arrived Monday morning. A crowd of
more than 2,000 demonstrators greeted the party as it pulled up to the Tibesty Hotel, a dark pyramid-shaped building in central Benghazi.

Members of the crowd waving rebel flag shouted
slogans against Gadhafi and made clear their distrust of the
delegation, which included the heads of state of Mali, Mauritania and the republic of Congo, along with representatives from South Africa, Uganda and Algeria.

Gadhafi has long wooed neighboring African states
with public works projects and has also hired African fighters for his
militias, which are now fighting the rebels.

NATO also greeted news of Gadhafi’s openness to a cease-fire with suspicion. Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a Brussels news briefing Gadhafi’s forces had demonstrated that they “did not keep their promises,” Reuters news service reported.

A key Western ally agreed with the rebels. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told French radio Monday that no deal to end the crisis in Libya
could include a future political role for Gadhafi or his sons.
“Gadhafi’s children, family cannot take part in the political future of
Libya,” said Frattini.

Italy maintains strong economic connections to Libya, its former colonial ward.

Zuma did not travel to Benghazi with his fellow
African Union negotiators. As the meeting ended, members of the
delegation walked through the hotel hallways with grim faces. Rebel
spokesman Abdel Hafidan Gogha said the opposition had told the African
Union representative that they had evidence of Arab and African
fighters working for Gadhafi, including some Algerian nationals
captured over the weekend.

Despite three weeks of Western airstrikes against
Gadhafi’s forces, carried out with the expressed goal of protecting
civilians, there is no sign that the Libyan leader would fold anytime
soon. The bombing campaign has stopped his troops from marching on
Benghazi but has not helped the opposition advance into western Libya.

Meanwhile, Gadhafi’s fighters continued to attack
the rebel-held western coastal city of Misrata. On Monday, a doctor in
the enclave said government fighters began shelling the city
continuously from the early morning.

Among the seven people killed in fighting Monday was a 3-year-old girl, Sakina Mostafa,
whose parents brought her bloodied and limp body to one of the
makeshift field hospitals in the city. Many more were wounded, said the
doctor, who asked that his name not be published for security reasons.

“Nobody is supporting civilians but everybody is
saying they are supporting civilians,” said the doctor. “We don’t know
how the people promising to help us are helping us.”


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