AU plan in tatters, Britain, France round on NATO
An African Union peace plan for Libya was in tatters Tuesday after rebels stuck to their demand that Moamer Kadhafi step down, as NATO came under pressure to drop more bombs on the strongman's forces.
The British Foreign Office meanwhile said Libyan former foreign minister Mussa Kussa was leaving Britain on Tuesday to travel to Qatar for talks ahead of a meeting there of an international contact group on Libya.
Having managed to secure Kadhafi's agreement to a ceasefire, the African Union delegation encountered resistance from the rebel leadership in Benghazi, who argued that the initiative was obsolete and insisted Kadhafi be forced to quit.
"Due to a political demand set as a pre-condition by the Transitional National Council (TNC) to launching urgent talks on the implementation of a truce, it was not possible at this stage to reach an agreement on the key issue of a cessation of hostilities," an AU statement said.
The delegation "makes an urgent call on the TNC to fully cooperate, for the sake of Libya's higher interests, and assist in the quest for and implementation of a fair and lasting political solution", the statement added.
In Benghazi, rebel leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil said the African initiative did not go far enough.
"From the first day the demand of our people has been the ouster of Kadhafi and the fall of his regime," he said. "Kadhafi and his sons must leave immediately if they want to be safe ... Any initiative that does not include the people's demand, the popular demand, essential demand, we cannot possibly recognise."
The rebels also doubted Kadhafi would adhere to a truce.
"The world has seen these offers of ceasefires before and within 15 minutes (Kadhafi) starts shooting again," Shamsiddin Abdulmolah, a spokesman for the TNC, said.
With outgunned rebel forces making little headway in their bid to oust Kadhafi's hardline regime, British Foreign Secretary William Hague urged NATO allies to intensify military operations in Libya.
"We must maintain and intensify our efforts in NATO, that is why the United Kingdom has in the last week supplied additional aircraft capable of striking ground targets threatening the civilian population of Libya," Hague said.
"Of course it would be welcome if other countries also do the same," he told reporters as he arrived in Luxembourg for a meeting of European Union foreign ministers. "There is always more to do."
Thousands of lives had been saved in Libya thanks to air strikes that were launched by Western powers on March 19, preventing Kadhafi's forces from storming the rebel-held eastern city of Benghazi three weeks ago, Hague said.
"A huge amount has been achieved in Libya but clearly there is more to be done," he said. "Of course, to have any viable, peaceful future for Libya, Colonel Kadhafi needs to leave."
His comments came just hours after his French counterpart, Alain Juppe, had said France's NATO allies were not pulling their weight in Libya and their forces should do more to help destroy Kadhafi's heavy weaponry.
"NATO must fully play its role, and it is not doing so sufficiently," the minister told France Info radio, adding that France would bring the matter up with EU ministers on Tuesday and with NATO in Berlin on Thursday.
France which, with Britain and the United States, led the drive for air strikes, was sceptical about handing political control of the operation to the NATO Western alliance.
Now, Juppe said, it feels that the full coalition is not taking a robust enough attitude in pushing forward with the bombardment of Libyan government forces besieging rebel-held cities.
Former Libyan foreign minister Mussa Kussa, who is in Britain after defecting from the regime, said Monday the restive nation could become a "new Somalia" if civil war broke out.
"I ask everyone, all the parties, to avoid taking Libya into a civil war," the former minister said in a statement issued to the BBC. "This would lead to so much blood and Libya will be a new Somalia.
Kussa arrived in Britain unexpectedly on March 30 and immediately quit his post as foreign minister in Kadhafi's regime.
He was on his way to Qatar on Tuesday, said a British Foreign Office spokeswoman, who declined to give any more details on his plans,
"We understand that he is travelling today to Doha to meet with the Qatari government and a range of other Libyan representatives to offer insights in advance of the contact group meeting," she said.
Kadhafi's son Seif al-Islam admitted that it was time for "new blood" in Libya, but called talk of his father stepping down "ridiculous".
"The Libyan Guide (Kadhafi) does not want to control everything. He is at an advanced age. We would like to bring a new elite of young people onto the scene to lead the country and direct local affairs," he told France's BFM TV.
"We need new blood -- that is what we want for the future -- but talk of the Guide leaving is truly ridiculous," he added.
NATO, meanwhile, said it struck more loyalist targets around Ajdabiya and the besieged port of Misrata on Sunday and Monday, destroying 11 Kadhafi regime tanks and five military vehicles.
The regime warned that any foreign intervention under the pretext of bringing aid into Misrata would be met by "staunch armed resistance," the official JANA news agency quoted the foreign ministry as saying.
Diplomats in Brussels said on Friday that the EU was gearing up to deploy military assets for a humanitarian mission to evacuate wounded from Misrata and deliver food, water and medicine to the city.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that warplanes will keep pounding Libyan forces as long as civilians are at risk.
"I would also like to stress that the guiding principle for us will be how to implement the UN Security Council resolution fully, that is to protect the civilians against any attack," he said.
© 2011 AFP