The African Union meets in a summit this week that will try to show a united front on Libya, even though calls are mounting within the grouping for Muammar Gaddafi to leave — once a taboo topic.
The summit will consider a report by an AU panel of leaders tackling the Libyan conflict and which announced after a crisis meeting this weekend that Gaddafi had agreed to stay out of talks on an interim regime for his country.
Gaddafi “is finished”, said a South African official who was part of a team that travelled to Tripoli last month in a failed bid to launch peace talks to end the conflict that erupted in February.
The departure of continent’s longest-serving leader, as demanded by the West, was long avoided by Gaddafi’s African peers, many of whom have benefited from his funding or support and also object to international interference in their affairs.
That was until early June when Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, head of the AU panel on Libya, said Gaddafi “can no longer lead Libya” and “his departure has become necessary”.
But Ugandan Foreign Minister Henry Oryem Okello — whose country is also on the mediation panel — insisted: “That is the West’s position.”
“The African position is very clear: the future of Libya needs to be decided by Libyans,” he told Agence France-Presse.
The crisis could see stormy debates within the brand-new €600-million luxury complex that current AU chairperson Equatorial Guinea had built in time for the summit on Thursday and Friday.
“Either the heads of state manage to find a consensus, but that risks being difficult, or they could vote,” said a diplomat, with the latter process rarely invoked.
“All will depend on the position of some of the heavyweights, like Nigeria,” he said.
Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan received a personal message from Gaddafi on Friday. The Libyan leader also sent at the weekend an emissary to Algiers.
The Libya mediation panel, meanwhile, “stressed the need for unity of purpose and action among all AU member states” to ensure an African position “is given due consideration in the international arena”.
The diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that despite public statements, all players in the African Union “want the departure of Gaddafi”.
“The debate will not be so much on the aim as on how to get there,” he said.
The summit would also try to do this “while protecting the image of the AU, which cannot [be seen to] change its positions and criticisms of Nato too quickly”, he said.
The 53-country AU has vigorously condemned the Nato-led bombing campaign against Gaddafi positions launched 100 days ago, saying it undermines its own peace plan based on a ceasefire and negotiations towards elections.
South African President Jacob Zuma repeated again on Sunday that aim of the UN resolution that allowed the campaign was to protect the Libyan people and not “to authorise a campaign for regime change or political assassination”.
Gaddafi has accepted the AU peace plan, but it has been rejected by the rebel National Transitional Council, which says the Libyan leader and his sons must first leave.
Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, called for the AU to refuse to allow impunity for Gaddafi, as it had for Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir who is under an international arrest warrant for crimes against humanity during his country’s civil war.
The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant on Monday for Gaddafi for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“Al-Bashir was very much supported by the AU and we are concerned that the same trend may be followed by the AU when it comes to the issue of Libya,” Human Rights Watch representative Aloys Habimana said.
Containing flaring tensions in Sudan ahead of the south of the country’s independence on July 9 will be another task for the African leaders.
AU Commission chairperson Jean Ping called on Sunday for the north and south to complete talks on outstanding aspects of their peace agreement, saying it was also crucial to accelerate efforts for peace, justice and reconciliation in the western region of Darfur. — Sapa-AFP