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South African president, Jacob Zuma

Johannesburg radio claims the aim is to discuss an exit strategy for the Libyan leader


South African president Jacob Zuma greets Gaddafi in Libya in April. He is returning for further talks

The South African president, Jacob Zuma, is to visit Tripoli for talks with the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi.

The Johannesburg-based Talk Radio 702, citing sources in Tripoli, reported that the aim of the trip was to discuss an exit strategy for Gaddafi in co-operation with Turkey.

But the Turkish foreign ministry in Ankara said there had been no discussion about what would be on the agenda during the visit. South Africa’s government also denied talk of an exit strategy for Gaddafi.

Zizi Kodwa, a spokesman for Zuma, said: “It’s not part of the president’s agenda. It’s not part of the president’s plan in Libya.”

The South African president headed an African Union mission to the Libyan capital in April but its attempt to halt the civil war collapsed within hours.

“This is a follow-up … it’s too early to pre-empt the agenda of the [new] meeting,” said Kodwa, adding that Zuma has no plans to meet rebels in Libya.

A South African government official, who did not wish to be named, said the aim of the latest AU effort on 30 May was “to seek a breakthrough”.

South Africa has previously given refuge to exiled former leaders Jean-Bertrand Aristide, of Haiti, and Marc Ravalomanana, of Madagascar, but any attempt to host Gaddafi would be more controversial.

Last week Pretoria accused Libya of misleading it over the fate of a South African photographer now believed to be dead after being shot and abandoned in the desert by forces loyal to Gaddafi.

South Africa’s governing African National Congress said it was incensed by the use of deadly force against civilians and journalists and accused Libya of dishonesty. But Pretoria has also been critical of Nato’s intensified bombing campaign.

Six loud explosions rocked Tripoli within 10 minutes late yesterday. These followed powerful strikes 24 hours earlier, including one on Gaddafi’s compound, that Libyan officials said killed 19 people and state television blamed on “colonialist crusaders”.

The French foreign minister, Alain Juppé, said Nato’s bombing campaign was making progress and should achieve its objectives within months. An alliance official said yesterday’s early strike was “the most concentrated to date”.

France, Britain and the US are leading the air strikes, which started on 19 March after the UN security council authorised “all necessary measures” to protect civilians from Gaddafi’s forces as he sought to crush an uprising against his 41-year rule.

The three countries have declared they will keep up the campaign until Gaddafi leaves power. The upbeat assessment by Juppé came after the US said the Libyan leader’s departure was inevitable.

“There are more and more centres of resistance [to Gaddafi], especially in the west,” he said during a question and answer session in the French parliament. “Defections are speeding up.

“I can assure you that our will is to ensure that the mission in Libya does not last longer than a few months.”

France said it would deploy helicopters to ensure more precise attacks against Gaddafi forces embedded among the civilian population of Libyan cities.

Military analysts said the plans and the intensified bombing of Tripoli reflected growing western concerns that Libya’s civil war was dragging on. But they said the latest moves might not be enough to tip the balance quickly.

While critics argue that Nato has overstepped its mandate, rebels have complained western forces are not doing enough to break Gaddafi’s army.

He denies his forces target civilians and says the rebels, who control the east of the oil-producing country, are criminals, religious extremists and al-Qaida members.

The US bolstered the credentials of the Benghazi-based rebel National Transitional Council as a potential government-in-waiting when an American envoy invited it to set up a representative office in Washington. Unlike France, Italy and Qatar, the US has not established formal diplomatic ties with the rebels.

Jordan said that it recognised the rebel council as a legitimate representative of Libya’s people and planned to open an office in Benghazi.

The Libyan news agency Jana said targets hit by Nato on Tuesday included a Tripoli mosque called Nuri Bani, though this could not be independently verified.

A French newspaper reported that Gaddafi was tired of fighting a civil war under constant pressure from Nato bombs, and would step down if allowed to remain in his country.

France Soir, citing “reliable sources, close to Libyan power”, said people within Gaddafi’s entourage had been holding secret meetings with representatives from western countries, including France, for weeks.

The paper said the Libyan leader, traumatised by the death of a son and three grandchildren in a Nato raid, was tired of living as a hunted man and spent severalhours a day watching Arabic news channels and surfing news on Arab, English and Italian websites. In his public pronouncements, Gaddafi has vowed to fight to the death.

Filed in: World News

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