Correspondents * – IPS/Al Jazeera
DOHA, May 31 (IPS) – Muammar Gaddafi is ready for a truce to stop the fighting in his country, Jacob Zuma, the South African president, has said.
Zuma, who met the Libyan leader at an undisclosed location during a visit to Libya on Monday, also listed conditions set out by the embattled leader that have scuppered previous ceasefire attempts.
He said Gaddafi was willing to accept an African Union (AU) initiative for a ceasefire that would stop all hostilities, including NATO air strikes in support of rebel forces.
But Zuma said Gaddafi insists that “all Libyans be given a chance to talk among themselves” to determine the country’s future. The rebels, however, quickly rejected the offer.
Zuma did not say whether Gaddafi was ready to step down, a key demand of the rebels.
In April, Zuma led a delegation of the African Union to Libya with an AU proposal for a truce. Gaddafi said he would accept the truce but quickly ignored it and resumed his attacks.
In the rebels’ de facto capital of Benghazi, Fathi Baja, the rebel foreign minister, rejected the African Union plan.
“We refuse completely; we don’t consider it a political initiative, it is only some stuff that Gaddafi wants to announce to stay in power,” he told the Associated Press.
Idris Traina, a member of the Libyan opposition based in Los Angeles, told Al Jazeera that there was nothing new in this visit.
“Initially the reports we heard were that president Zuma was there to negotiate an exit strategy for Gaddafi and his family,” he said.
“Later we heard repeated talk about the truce, but the Transitional National Council and the Libyan people have rejected these [truce offers] before and are rejecting them now.”
Zuma’s visit to Libya came amid reports of mass defections from Gaddafi’s army.
Eight senior military officers held a press conference in Italy on Monday, saying they were part of a group of as many as 120 military officials and soldiers who defected from Gaddafi’s side in recent days.
The hastily called news conference was organised by the Italian government for the eight officers – five generals, two colonels and a major.
“What is happening to our people has frightened us,” said one officer, who identified himself as General Oun Ali Oun.
“There is a lot of killing, genocide … violence against women. No wise, rational person with the minimum of dignity can do what we saw with our eyes and what he asked us to do.”
Another officer, General Salah Giuma Yahmed, said Gaddafi’s army was weakening day by day, with the force reduced to 20 percent of its original capacity.
“Gaddafi’s days are numbered,” Yahmed said.
Abdurrahman Shalgam, the Libyan U.N. ambassador, who has also defected from Gaddafi, said all 120 military personnel were outside Libya now, but he did not say where they were.
In a statement on the eve of Zuma’s visit, his ruling African National Congress in South Africa condemned the NATO bombing of Libya.
“We also join the continent and all peace loving people of the world in condemning the continuing aerial bombardments of Libya by Western forces,” it said after a two-day meeting of its executive council.
The development came as Navi Pillay, the U.N. rights chief, condemned the brutality of the Libyan government’s crackdown on protesters, saying the actions were shocking in their disregard for human rights.
“The brutality and magnitude of measures taken by the governments in Libya and now Syria have been particularly shocking in their outright disregard for basic human rights,” she said.