BENGHAZI, Libya (AFP) – Libyan rebels said they expect to receive an offer from Mummer Gaddafi “very soon” that could end the four-month war but insisted the veteran strongman must agree to step down.
The rebels said they were not in direct contact with Gaddafi officials but said they expected to receive the offer through South African and French intermediaries.
South African President Jacob Zuma, who met Gaddafi last month without securing a deal acceptable to the rebels, was to host a meeting of the African Union’s Libya panel on Sunday to discuss the bloc’s mediation efforts.
“We expect to get an offer very soon; he (Gaddafi) is unable to breathe,” Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice chairman of the rebel National Transitional Council, told AFP in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
“We want to preserve life, so we want to end the war as soon as possible,” he added. “We have always left him some room for an exit.”
Ghoga said the NTC understood through contacts with France and South Africa that an offer was being prepared by the authorities in Tripoli.
“These are the countries chosen by the Gaddafi regime to present a proposal to the National Transitional Council, but we have not received anything to date,” he said.
“Any proposal that is brought to us, we will take a serious look at it so long as it guarantees that Gaddafi and his regime, his inner circle, do not remain in power.”
Zuma was to meet in Pretoria with fellow heads of state on the African Union panel from the Congo Republic, Mali, Mauritania and Uganda.
Gaddafi is a long-time backer of the AU and a forceful advocate for stronger continental integration. He held the pan-African body’s rotating chair in 2009 and has twice held talks with members of the panel.
Many AU leaders have publicly criticised NATO’s assault on his regime, including Zuma, who earlier this month accused the alliance of abusing the United Nations resolution that justified its bombing.
He said that by pursuing regime change NATO had strayed far outside the resolution’s civilian protection focus.
Zuma’s government, which currently holds a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, did vote in favour of the resolution and has accused Gaddafi of committing a “heinous violation of human rights against his own people” with his crackdown on the anti-government protests that sparked the rebellion.
Earlier this month, Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who chairs the AU panel, told AFP Gaddafi “can no longer lead Libya,” and that “his departure has become necessary.”
But he and other African leaders have repeatedly called for a ceasefire and a diplomatic solution to the conflict, although they have so far failed to come up with a truce proposal that meets the rebels’ and NATO’s precondition that Gaddafi and his inner circle must leave power.
In recent days rumours have been rife that the Libyan leader may consider leaving Tripoli and that rebels could accept his internal exile to a remote location.
But it remains to be seen if such a deal is just wishful thinking.
The rumours have been fuelled by a military deadlock on the ground and a steady trickle of defections from Gaddafi’s forces.
The rebels said Saturday that 38 Gaddafi officers — including six of high rank — fled to Tunisia a day earlier.
But the front line between the rebel-held east and the mainly government-held west has remained largely static for weeks and the rebels have made little progress from their two western enclaves around Libya’s third-largest city Misrata and in the Nafusa Mountains, southwest of Tripoli.