AU urges rebels to cooperate, France slams NATO allies

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The African Union urged Libyan rebels on Tuesday to "fully cooperate" as it fought to salvage its tottering ceasefire plan and France accused its NATO allies of not pulling their weight.

The AU reacted swiftly to the rebels' rejection of a truce plan presented by the continental body on Monday.

"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," said an AU statement on the visit to Libya by a high-ranking African delegation.

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 said.

Libya's strongman Moamer Kadhafi accepted the AU's plan but the rebels' leadership in the city of Benghazi argued the initiative was obsolete and insisted Kadhafi should be ousted.

Former 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.

"We refuse to divide Libya. The unity of Libya is essential to any resolution and settlement for Libya," he added. "The solution in Libya will come from the Libyans themselves through democratic dialogue."

France's NATO allies are not pulling their weight in Libya and their forces should do more to help destroy Kadhafi's heavy weaponry, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Tuesday.

"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.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also stuck to US demands for Kadhafi to step down and leave Libya as part of a peaceful transition, but declined to comment on the proposed African Union deal before being fully briefed.

She told a news conference in Washington however that "there needs to be a transition that reflects the will of the Libyan people and the departure of Kadhafi from power and from Libya".

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.

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."

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.

Shamsiddin Abdulmolah, a spokesman for the TNC, welcomed the African Union efforts but demanded Kadhafi's overthrow.

"The people must be allowed to go into the streets to express their opinion and the soldiers must return to their barracks," he told AFP.

"If people are free to come out and demonstrate in Tripoli, then that's it. I imagine all of Libya will be liberated within moments."

He also demanded the release of hundreds of people missing since the outbreak of the popular uprising and believed to be held by Kadhafi's forces.

South African President Jacob Zuma said earlier that Tripoli had accepted the African Union plan for a ceasefire.

"We also in this communique are making a call on NATO to cease the bombings to allow and to give a ceasefire a chance," he said.

The rebels, however, doubted Kadhafi would adhere to a truce.

"The world has seen these offers of ceasefires before and within 15 minutes (Kadhafi) starts shooting again," Abdulmolah said.

© 2011 AFP

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