Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi agreed to accept an African Union peace plan that could lead to a cease-fire with rebels, South African President Jacob Zuma said in Tripoli yesterday, The Associated Press and Reuters reported.
Zuma presented Gadhafi with a four-point program including a cease-fire, humanitarian aid, protection for foreign nationals and political reforms, a spokesman for the African Union, Noureddine Mezni, said in an interview late yesterday with the BBC. Zuma said he will meet today with rebel leaders in Benghazi.
“The brother leader’s delegation has accepted the roadmap as presented by us. We have to give cease-fire a chance,” Zuma said, referring to Gadhafi’s side in the talks, Reuters reported from Tripoli.
After almost two months of fighting, troops loyal to Gadhafi and rebels in the North African country, Africa’s largest oil exporter, have fought to a stalemate, with battles moving back and forth in a small area along the coast, and neither side able to take or hold territory for long. Gadhafi has vowed not to leave Libya, and a cease-fire that would keep him in power has been flatly rejected by rebels.
“I don’t think anybody is going to be in a good position to mediate between these sides at this point,” said Andrew Terrill, a Middle East specialist at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College. People on the rebel side are totally committed to Gadhafi leaving power, and he won’t. They fear that any compromise with Gadhafi where he stays in power, he’ll put them in jail or have them executed, once he has the opportunity.”
NATO air attacks against Gadhafi’s armor and supply routes appeared to have helped rebels push back loyalists from Ajdabiya yesterday, according to the New York Times, which reported from the city that Gadhafi’s artillery was “mostly silent” and rebels retook positions throughout the town.
Airstrikes blew up 11 tanks belonging to forces loyal to Gadhafi as they approached Ajdabiya yesterday, and 14 more were hit earlier on the outskirts of Misrata. NATO strikes also left craters in the road used by Gadhafi to resupply troops shelling Ajdabiya, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said.
“The situation in Ajdabiya and Misrata in particular is desperate for those Libyans who are being brutally shelled by the regime,” Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, the Canadian officer commanding NATO operations over Libya, said in a statement yesterday.
“We are hitting the regime logistics facilities as well as their heavy weapons because we know Gadhafi is finding it hard to sustain his attacks on civilians,” the statement said.
NATO is enforcing United Nations resolutions that established a no-fly zone over Libya and called on member states to use force to protect civilians from attack by Gadhafi’s troops.
“The airstrikes conducted by the NATO allies seem to have been fairly effective,” Terrill said. Still, “it looks like a stalemate,” with the rebels unable to conduct any sustained military operation on their own, he said. “You wonder if we will have a de facto partition, at least for a while.”
The Libyan government said yesterday it shot down two attack helicopters used by rebel forces over Brega, the Associated Press reported, citing Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Amin. Pro-Gadhafi forces also launched a surprise attack on rebels in Ajdabiya, shelling the town and deploying soldiers on the streets, the British Broadcasting Corp. said. Eight rebels were killed in the violence, the BBC reported, citing unidentified doctors in the city.
“I don’t see the rebels getting a lot better to the point they’ll be able to take loyalist cities,” Terrill said. Neither side seems able to extend their supply lines or attacks much further into the other’s territory, suggesting Libya may ended up partitioned, Terrill said.
That could allow the rebels time to train and equip, while Gadhafi will struggle under sanctions that could exhaust his cash, his munitions and his troops.
“If the rebels can hold what gains they’ve made, time may be on their side,” Terrill said.
The rebels have been struggling to move west from their stronghold of Benghazi and take and hold strategic towns including Ajdabiya, Brega and Ras Lanuf, Libya’s main oil terminal.
Oil output from Libya has dropped by about 1.3 million barrels a day to a “trickle,” the Paris-based International Energy Agency said last month. Oil production would still be less than a third of its pre-conflict level even if the rebels took control of the country’s oil fields, Nomura Holdings Inc. said in a report.
Crude oil climbed above $112 in New York for the first time in 30 months on April 8. Oil for May delivery rose $2.49 to $112.79 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest settlement since Sept. 22, 2008. Futures advanced 4.5 percent last week and are 32 percent higher than a year ago.
Almost four months after a 26-year-old vegetable seller set himself on fire in despair over Tunisia’s social, political and economic conditions, protesters are taking to the streets across the Arab world to demand political change.
A Syrian army officer was killed and several soldiers were injured when gunmen ambushed their vehicle in the coastal oil hub of Banias, where tanks were deployed to contain protests spreading across the country, state television reported, citing unidentified people.
In Egypt, the general prosecutor summoned ousted president Hosni Mubarak and his two sons for investigations, Al Arabiya television reported, without saying how it got the information. Yesterday, one person died and 71 were injured when Army troops tried to clear a central Cairo square of demonstrators calling for a swift trial for Mubarak and his aides.
In Gaza, Israeli and Hamas officials called for an end to four days of fighting that left 19 Palestinians dead, with each side appealing to the other to stop the shooting.
Foreign ministers of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council meeting yesterday in the Saudi capital of Riyadh urged Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down and called for a unity government. Saleh and the opposition declined to take part in the talks with GCC members Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Tens of thousands took to the streets yesterday in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a and in Taiz, where clashes left at least 15 protesters dead and hundreds wounded. Demonstrators chanted “Hey Ali, you thug, what did you do last night?” Protests have gained momentum since March 18 when police and snipers killed 46 people in Sana’a.
U.S. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon will visit Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates from today to April 13, meeting Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the White House said in a statement yesterday.
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