Tripoli, Apr 11 : Libya's opposition Transitional National Council today rejected a peace plan proposed by the African Union mediators, saying longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi must accept their demand to relinquish power before any talks.
“This initiative has now been surpassed. From the first day the demand of our people have been the ouster of Gaddafi and the fall of his regime,” rebel council chief and former Justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil said at a news conference in opposition stronghold Benghazi.
“Therefore any initiative that does not include this people's demand, popular demand, essential demand, we cannot possibly recognize,” he said.
The announcement came as the members of African delegation, including five African presidents, arrived in Benghazi to meet rebel leaders in a bid to end hostilities and negotiate a way out of the deepening crisis in Libya.
The Libyan government had accepted the AU peace plan after its representative met Gaddafi and his senior officials in the capital Tripoli yesterday. The plan includes an immediate ceasefire and talks between rebels and government.
The roadmap was a five-point plan which called for a ceasefire and the protection of civilians, alongside the provision of humanitarian aid for Libyans and foreign workers in the country, Al-Jazeera reported.
“Muammar Gaddafi and his sons should depart immediately,” rebel spokesman Mustafa Jabril told reporters. “We cannot negotiate the blood of our martyrs,” said Jabril. “We will die with them or be rewarded with victory.”
He also thanked the international community and coalition forces for their support, which he said had saved the lives of civilians.
In Brussels, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said any ceasefire “must be credible and verifiable” and any solution “must respond to the legitimate demands of the Libyan people for political reforms.”
Meanwhile, the government forces pounded besieged western town of Misurata, which has been the scene of heavy bombardments for more than a month now. The rebels pushed back an advance by Gaddafi's forces into the town.
In the eastern battlefront, where the government forces were rapidly advancing till yesterday, a major NATO strike destroyed 25 tanks on the outskirts of Ajdabiya and Misurata, helping the opposition stem their advance.
While 11 tanks were hit outside Ajdabiya, which the rebels were struggling to hold on, while another 14 were targeted on the outskirts of Misurata.
Gaddafi made his first appearance in front of the foreign media in weeks when he joined the AU delegation at his Bab al-Aziziyah compound, Al Jazeera said.
Ramtane Lamamra, the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, said the issue of Gaddafi's departure had come up in the talks yesterday but declined to give details.
“There was some discussion on this but I cannot report on this. It has to remain confidential,” he said.
“It's up to the Libyan people to chose their leaders democratically,” he was quoted as saying.
The revolt against Gaddafi's 41-year reign began as a wave of protests across the country in late February but soon escalated into a civil war after Gaddafi's troops fired on demonstrators and armed fighters seized several eastern towns. Given the fact the Gaddafi had earlier during the fighting violated a ceasefire, the rebels are also doubtful of how well any future truce would hold.
They have maintained that any negotiation for a transition to democracy in Libya would take place only when Gaddafi and his sons leave the country. The rebels have also demanded that Gaddafi's forces remove their troops from the cities.
In Benghazi, hundreds of people gathered outside the airport and demanded Gaddafi's overthrow.
In addition to South African President Jacob Zuma, who was leaving Libya to return home after meeting Gaddafi, the AU delegation in Tripoli included three other African leaders—
President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania, and Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo.
The fighting that is on for almost two months has descended into a military stalemate with most of the west in control of the government troops while a large part of the east under rebel control.
Calls for a political resolution to the conflict have grown internationally as the possibility of the rebels succeeding in overthrowing the regime appears increasingly bleak.
British Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman Steve Field told reporters in London that air strikes by NATO's would not be stopped without proof of a genuine cease-fire.
“Whether or not there is a cease-fire, that is in Gadhafi's hands. We have to judge him by what he does, not what he says,” Field was quoted as saying in the media.
NATO, which took control of the allied military operation on March 31, has come under criticism by the rebels after a number of their fighters died in NATO attacks in what the coalition later called a mistake.
NATO stepped up attacks on Gaddafi's armoured divisions yesterday to loosen the siege of Misurata, which is facing shortages of food and medicines, and also to halt the government troops' advance in the east. PTI