Gaddafi says yes to AU roadmap for ceasefire

Tripoli: Muammar Gaddafi agreed to a "road map" proposed by African leaders to end hostilities with the Libyan rebels, as NATO air raids attacked his military`s positions and helped the opposition push back his forces advancing on the opposition strongholds in the east.

While the terms of the `road map` were not clear, the rebels said there was no question of a truce that leaves the Libyan strongman in power.

Jacob Zuma, the South African president who is part of the delegation of African Union leaders in Libya, said they had discussed with Gaddafi the issue of stopping of air attacks by NATO to "give ceasefire a chance".

"We have completed our mission with the brother leader, and the brother leader`s delegation has accepted the road map as presented by us," Zuma said.

Gaddafi made his first appearance in front of the foreign media in weeks when he joined the AU delegation at his Bab al-Aziziyah compound, Al Jazeera said.

The delegation said in a statement that it had decided to go along with a road map adopted in March, which calls for an end to hostilities, "diligent conveying of humanitarian aid" and "dialogue between the Libyan parties".

It was not clear whether the ceasefire blueprint spells Gaddafi`s departure from power as the rebels have been demanding, though the key points of the AU `roadmap` include a clause for political reforms which "meet the aspirations of the Libyan people", according to the pan-Arab channel.

Ramtane Lamamra, the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, said the issue of Gaddafi`s departure had come up in the talks yesterday but declined to give details.

"There was some discussion on this but I cannot report on this. It has to remain confidential," he said.

"It`s up to the Libyan people to chose their leaders democratically," he was quoted as saying.

The announcement was made after the meeting in Tripoli yesterday, hours ahead of which NATO air raids on Gaddafi forces` tanks in the east helped the rebels push back their rapid advance towards Benghazi.

Among other key points in the `roadmap` are protection of civilians, provision of humanitarian aid for Libyans, a dialogue and an inclusive transitional period.

Ahmad Bani, a rebel spokesman, rejected a negotiated outcome to the conflict.

"There is no other solution than the military solution, because this dictator`s language is annihilation, and people who speak this language only understand this language," he told Al Jazeera.

The African delegation is set to meet the rebels in Benghazi as the situation in the country appears to be deadlocked both militarily and politically and the there is no word on actually how the roadmap is going to be implemented, if at all it is accepted by the rebels.

In the eastern battlefront, where the government forces were rapidly advancing till yesterday, a major NATO strike destroyed 25 tanks on the outskirts of Ajdabiya and Misurata, helping the opposition stem their advance.

While 11 tanks were hit outside Ajdabiya, which the rebels were struggling hold on to, while another 14 were targeted on the outskirts of Misurata, the only rebel controlled city in the west, that is under a tightening siege for six weeks.

Given the fact the Gaddafi had earlier during the fighting violated a ceasefire, the rebels are also doubtful of how well any future truce would hold.

They have maintained that any negotiation for a transition to democracy in Libya would take place only when Gaddafi and his sons leave the country. The rebels have also demanded that Gaddafi`s forces remove their troops from the cities.

In addition to Zuma, the AU delegation included three other African leaders — President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania, and Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo.

An uprising against Gaddafi`s 41-year-rule in Libya began in February soon after a similar movement in Egypt succeeded in ousting longstanding ruler Hosni Mubarak.

But the uprising escalated into a civil war after Gaddafi forces used force to suppress the movement and the rebels seized several eastern towns.

The fighting that is on for almost two months has descended into a military stalemate with most of the west in control of the government troops while a large part of the east under rebel control.

Calls for a political resolution to the conflict have grown internationally as the possibility of the rebels succeeding in overthrowing the regime appears increasingly bleak.

NATO, which took control of the allied military operation on March 31, also came under criticism by the rebels after a number of their fighters died in NATO attacks in what the coalition later called a mistake.

NATO stepped up attacks on Gaddafi`s armoured divisions yesterday to loosen the siege of Misurata, which is facing shortages of food and medicines, and also to halt the government troops` advance in the east.