Libya’s rebels rejected an African Union cease-fire proposal that wouldn’t immediately remove Muammar Qaddafi, as a doctor in the besieged city of Misrata reported children are being killed by the regime’s “indiscriminate shelling.”
The African Union said in an e-mailed statement today that Qaddafi agreed to end hostilities immediately and hold talks “with the view to adopting and implementing the political reforms necessary for the elimination of the causes of the current crisis.”
There was no mention of Qaddafi stepping down, a demand of the rebels and members of the anti-Qaddafi alliance led by the U.S., France and the U.K.
“Qaddafi must leave immediately if he wants to survive,” the head of Libya’s rebel council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, said at a televised news conference today in Benghazi.
In Misrata, Libya’s third largest city, the situation is “very bad” with shelling coming within a few hundred yards of a hospital, according to James Elder, a spokesman UNICEF in Cairo. “All day, casualties have poured in, including families killed,” he said in an e-mail today after talking by Skype with a doctor at the hospital. He said the doctor described seeing a three-year-old girl who had been killed by a sniper’s bullet in the head.
In a statement today, UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, called for an immediate end to the siege, warning that “tens of thousands of children” are at risk. The Libyan government will “confront anyone trying to get close to Misrata under the pretext of humanitarian aid,” Libyan state television said according to Al Arabiya television.
Oil for May delivery fell $2.87, or 2.5 percent, to settle at $109.92 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after the International Monetary Fund cut growth forecasts for the U.S. and Japan. It was the biggest decline since March 15. Futures settled at $112.79 a barrel on April 8, the highest close since Sept. 22, 2008.
After almost two months of fighting, troops loyal to Qaddafi and rebels in the North African country, holder of Africa’s largest oil reserves, have fought to a stalemate, with battles moving back and forth in a small area along the coast. Qaddafi’s forces today continued to rain artillery fire into Misrata, where NATO airstikes have failed to protect civilians from the loyalists, the Associated Press reported.
NATO reported yesterday flying 70 ‘strike sorties,’’ flight missions looking for targets to hit, up from 56 on April 9. Qaddafi forces have “large quantities of tanks and other armored vehicles” in and around Misrata, Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, NATO’s mission commander, said in an e-mailed statement.
‘Early this morning Qaddafi forces shelled the city for more than 30 minutes, this despite the Qaddafi government talking of a cease fire,’’ he said.
An AU delegation including representatives from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Mauritania, South Africa and Uganda arrived in Benghazi today to meet rebel leaders, after presenting the plan to Qaddafi yesterday.
The AU proposal provides for a cease-fire, the organization of humanitarian relief efforts, the protection of foreign nationals and a “political process,” Mull Katende, Uganda’s ambassador to the union, said before talks with the rebels began. Once political negotiations began, the subject of Qaddafi’s departure could be discussed, he said.
“The initiative that was presented by the African Union doesn’t satisfy the aspirations of the Libyan people for freedom and doesn’t provide for the removal of Qaddafi,” Abdulhafid Ghoga, spokesman of the Interim Transitional National Council, said in Benghazi. “It speaks about reforming the system from within, and this is rejected.”
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Qaddafi’s departure as a non-negotiable element. There “needs to be a transition that reflects the will of the Libyan people and the departure of Qaddafi from power and from Libya,” Clinton told reporters today.
Asked about the African Union’s peace proposal, Clinton said she would wait for a ‘full briefing’’ before responding.
Mediation efforts may not work because “people on the rebel side are totally committed to Qaddafi leaving power, and he won’t,” said Andrew Terrill, a Middle East specialist at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College. “They fear that any compromise with Qaddafi where he stays in power, he’ll put them in jail or have them executed.”
The U.S. and allies from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization began air strikes against Qaddafi’s forces on March 19, a day after a UN resolution authorized the creation of a no- fly zone over Libya to protect civilians.
After initial advances under NATO air cover, the rebels were again pushed back by Qaddafi’s forces, leading some insurgent leaders to criticize the U.S.-led military campaign.
The opposition forces yesterday regained control of the strategic coastal town of Ajdabiya, with help from NATO strikes, said Khaled El Shayeh, a coordinator between the rebel military at the frontline and their political leadership in Benghazi. “NATO did a great effort yesterday,” he said in a phone interview. “The whole of Ajdabiya is under our control.”
Airstrikes blew up 11 tanks belonging to forces loyal to Qaddafi as they approached Ajdabiya yesterday, and 14 more were hit earlier on the outskirts of Misrata, NATO reported. NATO also said strikes left craters in the road used by Qaddafi to resupply troops shelling Ajdabiya.
South African President Jacob Zuma, who led the first part of the delegation to Tripoli, yesterday called on NATO to end its bombardment and “give the cease-fire a chance,” the AP reported. Zuma returned to South Africa today, describing the meeting as a “huge success,” according to an e-mailed statement from his office.
The African delegation was met in Benghazi today by thousands of people chanting anti-government slogans and waving Libyan, French, Spanish and Qatari flags. Outside the Hotel Cibefti, where the AU talks with rebels were taking place, people held banners that read “Qaddafi=Misery” and “No dialogue until the tyrant and his children leave”
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said any cease-fire agreement between Libyan regime forces and the rebellion must be “credible and verifiable.”
“We have seen quite a number of announced cease-fires and they have not been implemented, and for that reason we need to establish an effective monitoring mechanism,” Rasmussen told reporters in Brussels today.
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