BREAKING NEWS: TRIPOLI: Gaddafi Has Accepted African Union Peace Plan: UPDATED

10 Apr

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has accepted a road map to peace proposed by the African Union, according to South African President Jacob Zuma.

 Gaddafi Meets Leaders Of Peace Mission Play video

President Zuma’s announcement came following a meeting with Col Gaddafi and the representatives of five African countries.

The African leaders arrived in Tripoli earlier today as part of a delegation seeking to negotiate a truce in the Libyan conflict.

The roadmap calls for an end to hostilities, “diligent conveying of humanitarian aid” and “dialogue between the Libyan parties”, the leaders said in a statement.

Sky’s chief correspondent Stuart Ramsay, who is in Tripoli reporting under the restrictions of the Libyan authorities, said it could be the crucial first step towards peace.

The peace mission comes as Nato warplanes have helped prevent Libyan government forces from advancing past Ajdabiya, the gateway to Benghazi.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox said the Nato operations were working but warned not to be complacent about Col Gaddafi’s capabilities.

“The truth is that the Gaddafi regime is quite well dug in,” he told Sky News.

“It’s a regime that doesn’t care about the wellbeing of its civilian population. It cares nothing for anybody but its own survival.”

Nato has destroyed more than 11 Gaddafi tanks outside Ajdabiya and more strike sorties are expected.

Coalition jets have also struck 14 tanks outside Libya’s third city of Misratah today. A spokesman for the rebels said at least 30 people have been killed.

Nato’s commander of Libyan operations said the alliance had destroyed “a significant percentage” of his armoured forces in the past 24 hours as well as ammunition stockpiles east of the capital, Tripoli.

“The situation in Ajdabiya, and Misratah in particular, is desperate for those Libyans who are being brutally shelled by the Regime,” Canadian Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard said.

“To help protect these civilians we continue to strike these forces hard.”

Lt General Bouchard also accused Col Gaddafi’s troops of using civilians as human shields to deter Nato forces from attacking them. Similar charges have been made by other Western commanders.

“We have observed horrific examples of regime forces deliberately placing their weapons systems close to civilians, their homes and even their places of worship,” Lt Gen Bouchard said in a statement.

“Troops have also been observed hiding behind women and children. This type of behaviour violates the principles of international law and will not be tolerated.”

NEWS UPDATE:

Weary rebel fighters rest in the shade of the outside wall of a mosque, which was previously hit, on the outskirts of Ajdabiya, Libya Sunday, April 10

 AP – Weary rebel fighters rest in the shade of the outside wall of a mosque, which was previously hit, on …

Anti-government protests in Libya Slideshow:Anti-government protests in Libya

By HADEEL AL-SHALCHI, Associated Press Hadeel Al-shalchi, Associated Press :

TRIPOLI, Libya – South African President Jacob Zuma says Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has accepted the African Union’s “road map” for a cease-fire with rebels.

Zuma and other African leaders traveled to Tripoli to meet Gadhafi on Sunday and will be in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi on Monday to meet leaders of the opposition.

The African Union’s road map calls for an immediate cease-fire, opening channels for humanitarian aid and talks between the rebels and the government.

Gadhafi has ignored the cease-fire he announced after international airstrikes were authorized last month, and he rejects rebel demands that he step down.

Zuma says despite the divide, “We have to give the cease-fire a chance.”

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

AJDABIYA, Libya (AP) — NATO airstrikes battered Moammar Gadhafi’s tanks Sunday, helping Libyan rebels push back government troops advancing quickly toward the opposition’s eastern stronghold.

In the capital Tripoli, African leaders met with Gadhafi to try to negotiate an end to the fighting and planned to press their efforts with the rebels in a separate meeting on Monday.

Through the rebels have improved discipline and organization, they remain a far less powerful force than Gadhafi’s troops. Members of the international community have grown doubtful that the opposition can overthrow Gadhafi even with air support, and some are weighing options such as arming the fighters while they press for a diplomatic solution.

A rebel battlefield commander said four airstrikes Sunday largely stopped heavy shelling by government forces of the eastern city of Ajdabiya — a critical gateway to the opposition’s de facto capital of Benghazi. NATO’s leader of the operation said the airstrikes destroyed 11 tanks near Ajdabiya and another 14 near Misrata, the only city rebels still hold in the western half of Libya.

The fighting in Ajdabiya on Sunday killed 23 people, 20 of them pro-Gadhafi forces, said Mohammed Idris, the supervisor of a hospital in the city. A total of 38 people were killed in fighting over the weekend, including 11 rebels and seven civilians, Idris said.

The main front line in Libya’s uprising runs along a 600-mile (1,000-kilometer) coastal highway from Benghazi, Libya‘s second-largest city, to Tripoli, the capital, where Gadhafi’s power is concentrated. Rebels have been pushed back on two previous advances toward Tripoli, both times as they approached the heavily fortified Gadhafi stronghold of Sirte.

Over the past few days, Gadhafi’s forces have been knocking the rebels back eastward in their most sustained offensive since international airstrikes drove them back last month. If they had taken Ajdabiya, they would have had a clear path to opposition territory including Benghazi, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) away along the coast.

“If he controls Ajdabiya, he makes us feel like we are unsafe because he can move anywhere in the east,” said Col. Hamid Hassy, the rebel battlefield commander.

Western airstrikes, initially conducted under U.S. leadership, began on March 19 to repel Gadhafi’s forces just as they were at the doorstep of Benghazi.

Hassy said Gadhafi’s forces fled the western gate of Ajdabiya and by mid-afternoon had been pushed back about 40 miles (60 kilometers) west of the city. However, sporadic shelling could still be heard around western Ajdabiya.

A body brought to the morgue, said to be a rebel fighter shot near Ajdabiya’s west gate, had his hands and feet bound. Another body was an Algerian who had been fighting for Gadhafi, Dr. Suleiman Rafathi said at the hospital. He said the man’s ID confirmed his origin, but that rebels took the ID before an Associated Press reporter arrived. Rebels have said many Gadhafi fighters are foreign mercenaries.

Another Gadhafi fighter, about 20 years old, was on a ventilator — brain-dead but with a beating heart, Rafathi said.

Rebel fighter Sami Kabdi said the young man had been firing out a window of a school. When rebels told him to surrender, he put the muzzle of his AK-47 under his chin and fired, Kabdi and Rafathi said.

In a new diplomatic push to halt the fighting that began in February, South African President Jacob Zuma and the heads of Mali and Mauritania arrived in Tripoli to try to broker a cease-fire. They were greeted by pro-Gadhafi supporters on a red carpet at the airport before meeting with Libya’s leader of more than 40 years, who has ignored the cease-fire he announced after western airstrikes were authorized last month.

Gadhafi enjoys substantial support from countries of the AU, an organization that he chaired two years ago and helped transform using Libya’s oil wealth. So it is not clear whether rebels would accept the AU as a fair broker.

Though the AU has condemned attacks on civilians, last week its current leader, Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, decried foreign intervention in Libya’s nearly two-month-old uprising, which he declared to be an internal problem.

The rebels, the U.S. and its European allies are insisting Gadhafi relinquish power immediately.

An official from the African bloc, Khellaf Brahan, said its proposals call for an immediate cease-fire, opening channels for humanitarian aid and talks between the rebels and the government. But Gadhafi has insisted he won’t step down, and rebels and much of the international community, including the United States, are bent on seeing him go.

NATO is operating under a U.N. resolution authorizing a no-fly zone airstrikes to protect Libyan civilians.

Rebels had been growing critical of NATO, which accidentally hit opposition fighters in deadly airstrikes twice this month. They have complained that the alliance was too slow and imprecise, but Hassy, the rebel commander, said it is getting better.

“To tell you the truth, at first NATO was paralyzed but now they have better movement and are improving,” he said.

The commander of the NATO operation, Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, stressed in a NATO statement that the point of the airstrikes was to protect civilians, not to work hand-in-hand with the rebels.

“The situation in Ajdabiya, and Misrata in particular, is desperate for those Libyans who are being brutally shelled by the regime. To help protect these civilians we continued to strike these forces hard,” Bouchard said.

NATO noted that it is enforcing the no-fly zone on both sides, having intercepted a rebel MiG-23 fighter jet that it forced back to the airport Saturday.

In the embattled city of Misrata, the lone rebel outpost in the west of the country, residents said shelling continued Sunday, killing one and wounding two others seriously.

“We woke up at 7 a.m. from the tank fire,” said a doctor working at the local hospital who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

Libya’s third-largest city has been pounded without cease for more than a month by Gadhafi’s heavy weapons, but the rebels have managed to hold out.

In Tripoli, Libya’s deputy foreign minister accused NATO of a double standard on the no-fly zone, claiming that government forces shot down two U.S.-built Chinook helicopters being used by rebel forces in the east of the country.

“We have a question for the allied forces — is this resolution made for the Libyan government only or everyone in Libya?” he asked.

The report could not be confirmed with the rebels, but journalists in the area did describe seeing at least one helicopter apparently fighting for the rebels in the area Saturday, though it lacked the distinctive double rotor design of the Chinook and appeared to be a Russian-built model.

____

Al-Shalchi reported from Tripoli, Libya.

NEWS UPDATE: 2:

By HADEEL AL-SHALCHI and SEBASTIAN ABBOT, Associated Press Hadeel Al-shalchi And Sebastian Abbot, Associated Press : UPDATE: 2:

TRIPOLI, Libya – A delegation of African leaders said Sunday that their Libyan counterpart Moammar Gadhafi accepted their “road map” for a cease-fire with rebels, whom they will meet with Monday. They met hours after NATO airstrikes battered Gadhafi’s tanks, helping Libyan rebels push back government troops that had been advancing quickly toward the opposition’s eastern stronghold.

The terms of the African Union’s road map were unclear — such as whether it would require Gadhafi to pull his troops out of cities as rebels have demanded.

“We have completed our mission with the brother leader, and the brother leader’s delegation has accepted the road map as presented by us,” said South African President Jacob Zuma. He traveled to Tripoli with the heads of Mali and Mauritania to meet with Gadhafi, whose more than 40-year rule has been threatened by the uprising that began nearly two months ago.

“We will be proceeding tomorrow to meet the other party to talk to everybody and present a political solution,” Zuma said. He called on NATO to end airstrikes to “give the cease-fire a chance.”

Gadhafi has ignored the cease-fire he announced after international airstrikes were authorized last month, and he rejects demands from the rebels, the U.S. and its European allies that he relinquish power immediately.

Gadhafi enjoys substantial support from countries of the AU, an organization that he chaired two years ago and helped transform using Libya’s oil wealth. So it is not clear whether rebels would accept the AU as a fair broker.

Though the AU has condemned attacks on civilians, last week its current leader, Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, decried foreign intervention in Libya’s nearly two-month-old uprising, which he declared to be an internal problem.

An official from the African bloc, Khellaf Brahan, said previously that its proposals call for an immediate cease-fire, opening channels for humanitarian aid and talks between the rebels and the government.

Through the rebels have improved discipline and organization, they remain a far less powerful force than Gadhafi’s troops. Members of the international community have grown doubtful that the opposition can overthrow Gadhafi even with air support, and some are weighing options such as arming the fighters even while attempting diplomatic solutions.

A rebel battlefield commander said four airstrikes Sunday largely stopped heavy shelling by government forces of the eastern city of Ajdabiya — a critical gateway to the opposition’s de facto capital of Benghazi. NATO’s leader of the operation said the airstrikes destroyed 11 tanks near Ajdabiya and another 14 near Misrata, the only city rebels still hold in the western half of Libya.

NATO is operating under a U.N. resolution authorizing a no-fly zone and airstrikes to protect Libyan civilians.

The fighting in Ajdabiya on Sunday killed 23 people, 20 of them pro-Gadhafi forces, said Mohammed Idris, the supervisor of a hospital in the city. A total of 38 people were killed in fighting over the weekend, including 11 rebels and seven civilians, Idris said.

The main front line in Libya’s uprising runs along a 600-mile (1,000-kilometer) coastal highway from Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, to Tripoli, the capital, where Gadhafi’s power is concentrated. Rebels have been pushed back on two previous advances toward Tripoli, both times as they approached the heavily fortified Gadhafi stronghold of Sirte.

Over the past few days, Gadhafi’s forces have been knocking the rebels back eastward in their most sustained offensive since international airstrikes drove them back last month. If they had taken Ajdabiya, they would have had a clear path to opposition territory including Benghazi, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) away along the coast.

“If he controls Ajdabiya, he makes us feel like we are unsafe because he can move anywhere in the east,” said Col. Hamid Hassy, the rebel battlefield commander.

Western airstrikes, initially conducted under U.S. leadership, began on March 19 to repel Gadhafi’s forces just as they were at the doorstep of Benghazi.

Hassy said Gadhafi’s forces fled the western gate of Ajdabiya and by mid-afternoon had been pushed back about 40 miles (60 kilometers) west of the city. However, sporadic shelling could still be heard around western Ajdabiya.

A body brought to the morgue, said to be a rebel fighter shot near Ajdabiya’s west gate, had his hands and feet bound. Another body was an Algerian who had been fighting for Gadhafi, Dr. Suleiman Rafathi said at the hospital. He said the man’s ID confirmed his origin, but that rebels took the ID before an Associated Press reporter arrived. Rebels have said many Gadhafi fighters are foreign mercenaries.

Another Gadhafi fighter, about 20 years old, was on a ventilator — brain-dead but with a beating heart, Rafathi said.

Rebel fighter Sami Kabdi said the young man had been firing out a window of a school. When rebels told him to surrender, he put the muzzle of his AK-47 under his chin and fired, Kabdi and Rafathi said.

Rebels had been growing critical of NATO, which accidentally hit opposition fighters in deadly airstrikes twice this month. They have complained that the alliance was too slow and imprecise, but Hassy, the rebel commander, said it is getting better.

“To tell you the truth, at first NATO was paralyzed but now they have better movement and are improving,” he said.

The commander of the NATO operation, Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, stressed in a NATO statement that the point of the airstrikes was to protect civilians, not to work hand-in-hand with the rebels.

“The situation in Ajdabiya, and Misrata in particular, is desperate for those Libyans who are being brutally shelled by the regime. To help protect these civilians we continued to strike these forces hard,” Bouchard said.

NATO noted that it is enforcing the no-fly zone on both sides, having intercepted a rebel MiG-23 fighter jet that it forced back to the airport Saturday.

In the embattled city of Misrata, the lone rebel outpost in the west of the country, residents said shelling continued Sunday, killing one and wounding two others seriously.

“We woke up at 7 a.m. from the tank fire,” said a doctor working at the local hospital who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

Libya’s third-largest city has been pounded without cease for more than a month by Gadhafi’s heavy weapons, but the rebels have managed to hold out.

In Tripoli, Libya’s deputy foreign minister accused NATO of a double standard on the no-fly zone, claiming that government forces shot down two U.S.-built Chinook helicopters being used by rebel forces in the east of the country.

“We have a question for the allied forces — is this resolution made for the Libyan government only or everyone in Libya?” he asked.

The report could not be confirmed with the rebels, but journalists in the area did describe seeing at least one helicopter apparently fighting for the rebels in the area Saturday, though it lacked the distinctive double rotor design of the Chinook and appeared to be a Russian-built model.

____

Abbot reported from Benghazi, Libya

NEWS UPDATE:

Slideshow:Anti-government protests in Libya

African Union says Libya accepts cease-fire plan Play Video Video:African Union says Libya accepts cease-fire plan AP

By BEN HUBBARD, Associated Press Ben Hubbard, Associated Press : UPDATE:

BENGHAZI, Libya – Libyan rebels, backed forcefully by European leaders, rejected a cease-fire proposal by African mediators on Monday because it did not insist that Moammar Gadhafi relinquish power.

A day after an announcement that the Libyan leader had accepted the truce, a doctor in rebel-held Misrata said Gadhafi’s forces battered that western city and its Mediterranean port with artillery fire that killed six people.

“He is the biggest lie in the history of Libya,” said Jilal Tajouri, 42, who joined more than 1,000 flag-waving protesters in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi as the African Union delegation arrived.

“All the people in Libya agree on this: Gadhafi and all his sons must leave Libya so we can have democracy,” Tajouri said, echoing the opposition of other demonstrators to any dealmaking while Gadhafi remains in power.

The rebels’ leadership council agreed.

“Col. Gadhafi and his sons must leave immediately if he wants to save himself. “If not, the people are coming for him,” said Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, a former justice minister who split with Gadhafi and heads the Benghazi-based Transitional National Council.

Abdul-Jalil said the African Union proposal “did not respond to the aspirations of the Libyan people” and involved only political reforms.

“The initiative that was presented today, its time has passed,” he said. “We will not negotiate on the blood of our martyrs. We will die with them or be victorious.”

In their talks with the African Union delegation, the rebels raised the issue of Gadhafi’s reliance on foreign mercenaries from other African and Arab nations, particularly Algeria, said Abdul-Jalil, without elaborating.

The protesters in Benghazi said they had little faith in the visiting African Union mediators, most of them allies of Gadhafi. Three of the five African leaders who came preaching democracy for Libya seized power in coups.

South African President Jacob Zuma led the group, whose other key participants were the leaders of Mali, Mauritania, Republic of Congo and Uganda.

An Algerian member of the AU delegation had said there was discussion in the meeting with Gadhafi of the demands for his exit, but he refused to divulge details.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini strongly backed the rebel demand for Gadhafi’s immediate departure and said he doubted that the Libyan leader would have abided by the cease-fire after breaking more than one previous pledge to halt violence. The AU sought a suspension of three weeks of international airstrikes that have prevented Gadhafi’s forces from overpowering the vastly weaker rebel forces.

Nevertheless, the secretary general of NATO, which took over control of the international air operation from the U.S., welcomed any efforts to resolve the conflict. He said it had become clear it would not be decided on the battlefield.

“There can be no solely military solution to the crisis in Libya,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.

Gadhafi’s forces, meanwhile, shelled Misrata despite the African Union delegation’s assurance that Gadhafi had accepted their cease-fire plan at a meeting late Sunday in Tripoli. A doctor who lives in the city said the shelling began overnight and continued intermittently throughout the day Monday.

He said six people, one of them a 3-year-old girl, were killed by missiles that slammed into residential areas. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation if he was discovered by Gadhafi’s forces.

Weeks of fierce government bombardment of Misrata, the only major city in the western half of Libya that remains under partial rebel control, have terrorized its residents. Dozens have been killed and food and medical supplies are scarce, according to residents, doctors and rights groups.

Wary of Gadhafi’s earlier broken cease-fire pledges, European officials supported the rebels’ refusal to negotiate until Gadhafi and his powerful sons and associates are gone.

“The sons and the family of Gadhafi cannot participate in the political future of Libya,” Frattini said on France’s Europe-1 radio. He said Gadhafi’s departure would have to happen “in parallel” with any cease-fire.

He said he was lobbying allies to arm the rebels but that he was against expanding the international operation to include ground forces. The rebels have far less equipment, training and troops than Gadhafi’s forces, and members of the international community have grown doubtful the opposition can overthrow Gadhafi even with air support.

NATO is operating under a U.N. resolution authorizing a no-fly zone and airstrikes to protect Libyan civilians.

NATO airstrikes on Sunday hit Gadhafi tanks, helping the rebels push back government troops who had been advancing toward Benghazi on an east-west highway along the country’s northern Mediterranean coast.

The airstrikes largely stopped heavy shelling by government forces of the eastern city of Ajdabiya — a critical gateway to Benghazi, the opposition’s de facto capital and Libya’s second largest city.

On Monday, rebels held positions at the western gates of the city, on the fringes of desert littered with bullet casings, scraps of metal and more than a dozen blackened or overturned vehicles, including tanks and pickup trucks outfitted with anti-aircraft guns.

The area was also scattered with twisted cooking pots, torn blankets and a shredded green helmet smeared with blood.

A rebel scout sent down the highway to the west said he encountered Gadhafi forces and was drawn into a brief gunbattle before falling back to Ajdabiya, but there were no major battles on that front Monday.

___

Associated Press writers Sebastian Abbot in Ajdabiya, Libya, Diaa Hadid in Cairo, Angela Charlton in Paris and Don Melvin in Brussels contributed to this report.

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