Friday 22 November 2019

Gaddafi 'accepts road map to peace'

Damien McElroy, and Caroline Gammell

Col Gaddafi has accepted the African Union's "road map" for a ceasefire with Libya's rebels, according to Jacob Zuma, the South African president.

The road map calls for an immediate ceasefire, opening channels for humanitarian aid and talks between the rebels and government. Gaddafi has ignored the ceasefire he announced after international airstrikes were authorised last month.

Mr Zuma was party of a delegation of African leaders who arrived in Tripoli to try and persuade Gaddafi to halt the violence being meted on his own people.

Mr Zuma and Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo were among those who flew to the capital and plan to go on to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

The meeting came as Nato launched a fresh attack on forces loyal to Gaddafi, destroying 25 tanks and providing a much-needed boost to the rebel fighters.

The strikes were designed to counter an assault by the dictator whose soldiers carried out sustained shelling and artillery attacks over the weekend.

Coalition aircraft targeted Gaddafi troops outside Ajdabiya, in eastern Libya and Misurata, the only rebel held town in the west, which has been under siege for six weeks.

The strikes came as a delegation of African leaders arrived in Tripoli to try and persuade Gaddafi to halt the violence being meted on his own people.

Nato's air attacks, combined with rebel fighting, brought to a halt the advances of Gaddafi's troops, who were believed to have killed at least 30 rebels in Misurata.

The rebels were outflanked by the loyalists during their attempt to advance on the town of Brega and then forced into street to street fighting to defend their hold on Ajdabiya, which lies 90 miles south of Benghazi.

By Sunday morning, Gaddafi's better trained soldiers had made inroads into Ajdabiya.

Last night, rebel forces resumed control of the town with the help of Nato who said it had destroyed 11 Gaddafi tanks in Ajdabiya and a further 14 in Misurata.

Nato also targeted ammunition bunkers and lines of communications held by Gaddafi's forces. At least 15 loyalist soldiers are believed to have been killed.

Many of Ajdabiya's residents have permanently fled the town as it fluctuates between the control of the two sides.

Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, the Canadian head of Nato's Libyan operations said: "We are hitting the regime's logistics facilities as well as their heavy weapons.

"One recent strike cratered the road leading to Ajdabiya, west of Brega, where his fuel and ammunition is being moved forward on large trucks.

"Further west we hit two more storage bunkers where the ammunition is coming from."

Lt Gen Bouchard said Col Gaddafi's use of civilians as human shields was posing a massive hurdle.

"We have observed horrific examples of regime forces deliberately placing their weapons systems close to civilians, their homes and even their places of worship.

"Troops have also been observed hiding behind women and children. This type of behaviour violates the principles of international law and will not be tolerated." Yesterday, the coalition strikes were welcomed on the ground.

Mustafa Abdulrahman, a rebel spokesman said: "I have to say that the Nato forces have changed since yesterday, we are sensing a positive change."

The Libyan leader will also be told to stand aside to allow a transitional leadership. Abdul Ati Al-Obeidi, Libya's new foreign minister, yesterday told Channel 4 News that he is "hoping to work with others to arrange a real ceasefire". He added that the status of Col Gaddafi cannot form any part of the negotiations.

"Now is not the time to discuss this issue," Mr Al-Obeidi said. "To say he must go out now complicates any solution. He is the leader and he is helping and advising."

Last month, Gaddafi's government accepted an African demand to end hostilities, ensure access for humanitarian aid and dialogue between the two sides.

However his forces continued to wage war against the rebel uprising, forcing the UN to approve international intervention to save civilians.

Earlier Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister, said Gaddafi should not be underestimated, dismissing the notion that the Libyan leader is “delusional”.

“That is obviously not the case,” he told CNN. “Whatever people say about being delusional and so forth, he’s kept that grip for 40 years.”

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