Denies he has come to discuss exit strategy for Qadhafi

The African Union (A.U.) is set to deepen its role in resolving the Libyan crisis, with the arrival in Tripoli of South African President Jacob Zuma for talks with Muammar Qadhafi.

But a convergence of views over Mr. Qadhafi's fate among the Libyan regime, the opposition and its western backers appeared unlikely. Mr. Zuma said he was not in Tripoli to chart out an “exit strategy” for Mr. Qadhafi.

Mr. Zuma's office said reports suggesting the upcoming talks would seek Mr. Qadhafi's departure were “misleading”. Instead, the core purpose of the visit was to negotiate an immediate ceasefire that would let in the much needed humanitarian aid. Discussions would also be held on reforms that would eliminate the underlying causes of conflict.

Libyan state television anticipated discussions on the enforcement of a “road map” for peace the A.U. had conceived.

In the build-up to Mr. Zuma's visit, his ruling African National Congress (ANC) slammed NATO for bombing Libya. “We also join the continent and all peace loving people of the world in condemning the continuing aerial bombardments of Libya by Western forces,” said the ANC in a statement.

The Libyan government brushed aside the recent call by the G-8 countries for Mr. Qadhafi to step down by stressing the greater importance African diplomacy had acquired. “The G-8 is an economic summit. We are not concerned by its decisions,” said Deputy Foreign Minister, Khaled Kaaim. “We are an African country. Any initiative outside the A.U. framework will be rejected.”

Despite Mr. Zuma's emphasis on talks, there was plenty happening in the battle zone that could worry Mr. Qadhafi. Britain and France had brought in attack helicopters, signalling the possibility of a sharp escalation in bombing later this week. Analysts pointed out that aerial bombardment by low-flying helicopters could help clear the path for a rapid opposition advance towards Tripoli. These helicopters are likely to first pick targets on the outskirts of Misurata, from where pro-Qadhafi forces were shelling Libya's third largest city, which was in the opposition's control.

Over the week-end, Turkey hosted a meeting of around 100 tribal leaders and representatives from the opposition Transitional National Council (TNC). These talks were significant as it included members of the Warfalla tribe, which had so far supported Mr. Qadhafi in the fighting in Misurata. Al Jazeera reported the meeting called upon the people of Sirte, Mr. Qadhafi's hometown, “to join the revolution and to put a swift end to this tyranny”. Sirte posed a major impediment to the opposition militia's advance from the east to the west, in the direction of Tripoli.

Ahead of Mr. Zuma's talks, Moustafa Adul Jalil, a leader of the TNC in Benghazi, said Mr. Qadhafi's political exit was a non-negotiable condition. “The only condition for holding talks on resolving the crisis is that Qadhafi, his inner circle and his family have no future in the political arena of Libya and they must leave. We only welcome the proposition regarding the ceasefire and peace settlement based on this condition.”

As efforts to end the Libyan crisis accelerated, aspects of a post-conflict situation are beginning to acquire focus. Roland Dumas, a former French Foreign Minister, said he was ready to defend Mr. Qadhafi in case he was to face trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Britain, France deploy attack helicopters against Libyan troops

Qadhafi's exit non-negotiable, says opposition

More In: International | News