Sunday, April 10, 2011

Libya News Bulletin: Government Accepts African Union Ceasefire Plan Amid Escalating NATO Bombing Raids

Gaddafi accepts ceasefire: AU mediator

Sun Apr 10, 2011 11:9PM

South African President Jacob Zuma says embattled Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi has accepted the African Union's roadmap for a ceasefire to end the war in Libya.

An African Union (AU) mediation delegation held talks with Gaddafi's team on Sunday about a peace plan to put an end to the conflict, AFP reported.

The AU has brought up other proposals to Gaddafi which will be announced later and will have a meeting with Libyan revolutionaries in Benghazi on Monday, Zuma said.

Gaddafi announced a ceasefire following the airstrikes that were authorized by the UN Security Council 1973 resolution but shortly after broke it by attacking opposition-held towns.

The revolutionaries have so far been against a ceasefire and have continuously called for Gaddafi's ouster, saying negotiations with the government will be held if Gaddafi and his sons quit power and leave the country.

Diplomatic measures were highlighted when the NATO air attacks, claimed to be aimed at protecting civilians, failed to fulfill its task by increasing civilian casualties in their operations, bringing the military action to an impasse.

Revolutionaries have slammed NATO for killing civilians, warning that it will ask the UN to suspend the Western military alliance's mission in Libya if it fails to do “its work properly.”

At least 13 people were killed and 14 others were injured in fierce fighting between Gaddafi forces and revolutionaries near the strategic town of Ajdabiyah on Sunday, medics said.

Sources say regime troops have also killed at least 30 opposition fighters in intense clashes in the western town of Misratah over the past 24 hours.

APRIL 10, 2011, 6:40 P.M. ET

NATO Steps Up Libya Airstrikes, Bolstering Rebels

By CHARLES LEVINSON in Ajdabiya, Libya, and STEPHEN FIDLER in Brussels

NATO stepped up strikes on forces loyal to Col. Moammar Gadhafi Sunday, incinerating a convoy of vehicles laying siege to Ajdabiya and appearing to turn the tide toward rebel forces in the battle for control of the strategically vital city.

Meanwhile, a delegation of African leaders including South Africa's President Jacob Zuma arrived in Tripoli Sunday for talks with Col. Gadhafi as his troops stepped up their offensive in Ajdabiya.

The talks are part of a regime-backed African Union initiative to end fighting and begin dialogue between rebels and the government in Tripoli. But success looked doubtful from the start, given that the sole demand for the rebels and the opposition in the east remained Col. Gadhafi's departure—something non-negotiable for him and his core supporters.

Some analysts saw the initiative as another ploy by the embattled regime to buy time and divide the Western-led front.

"[The regime is] trying to put a wedge inside the coalition to make it think of other alternatives," said George Joffe, a Libya expert at Cambridge University.

Rebels in Ajdabiya cheered the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on Sunday for what appeared to be its most intensive day of attacks on ground forces since taking control of the campaign on March 31.

The alliance said Sunday it destroyed 11 tanks on the route to Ajdabiya and 14 tanks approaching the besieged rebel-held enclave of Misrata in western Libya, although it was impossible to verify the claim.

On the road leading west out of Ajdabiya, an old man in traditional dress chanted jubilantly into a megaphone: "Allahu Akbar," or "Allah is the greatest!"

The bodies of pro-Gadhafi fighters lay amid the wreckage of about a dozen Land Cruisers, which Col. Gadhafi's forces have been using instead of tanks in a bid to maintain a lower profile and dodge airstrikes.

Ajdabiya occupies a critical crossroads that serves as a gateway into eastern Libya, with thoroughfares leading to Benghazi, about 100 miles to the north, and another east to the oil-port city of Tobruq.

Rebels have been fending off a fierce assault on the city since late Friday, when they were surprised by a flanking move by Col. Gadhafi's forces coming out of the southern desert.

Sunday's increase in bombing followed days of mounting criticism by rebel commanders, who said NATO failed to provide sufficient air support and proper coordination, which contributed to two friendly-fire airstrikes on rebel forces.

Rebels endured repeated setbacks during those days. Col. Gadhafi's forces laid siege to oil fields in the desert south of Ajdabiya, forcing rebels to halt oil production.

Rebel fighters complained that as their defenses appeared to be collapsing, NATO aircraft were nowhere to be seen. On Saturday, NATO said it flew the fewest sorties since it took over: 133, 20 fewer than on any previous day.

Asked about Sunday's uptick in activity, a NATO official said more than half-a-dozen nations were now carrying out strike missions, relieving pressure on the French and British air forces and giving the alliance more firepower.

The official also said Sunday's strikes had been more visible to rebels and journalists accompanying them than in recent days, when the strikes had been behind front lines.

Another key factor may be rebel efforts to try to improve communication with NATO, said several rebel commanders, who along with Western officials in Benghazi had blamed poor communications for some of NATO's recent missteps and shortfalls.

A European diplomat in Benghazi recently complained of the dismal communication between the rebel leadership and NATO. He said some rebel officials had even turned to him to relay targeting requests to NATO.

"They know you come from a country taking part in the NATO coalition, so they tell you things and assume that means you can tell the appropriate NATO commander, but it's not the most efficient way to do it," said the diplomat, noting he has no direct ties to NATO commanders and can only pass on such information to his foreign ministry superiors.

NATO has been struggling to stop itself from being identified as the rebel air force, and therefore having its reputation linked to the fortunes of the opposition, emphasizing that its role is to protect civilians from threats from wherever they come.

As a result, however, NATO hasn't taken steps normally expected in a coordinated air and ground campaign, such as putting target spotters on the ground among the rebels, or air-power coordinators into the rebels' control room.

Meanwhile, the importance of ground-level intelligence has increased as Col. Gadhafi's forces have shifted tactics in response to the air campaign.

Without their own people on the ground, NATO faces the daunting task of obtaining and sorting timely and actionable information from the front lines while rebels struggle to conveying intelligence through the ranks from ragtag rebel fighters on the front to NATO commanders in Europe.

On Sunday, rebel commanders described a slapdash communications system that depends on the personal connections and resourcefulness of individual commanders.

Two rebel commanders in Ajdabiya claimed credit on Sunday for helping steer the NATO planes to their targets, although there was no way to verify their claims.

Abdel Moneim Mukhtar, commander of the Omar Mukhtar Brigade in Ajdabiya, said he called in the location of the Gadhafi unit laying siege to the city's western gate early Sunday morning through an old friend, Juma Fuhaima, a botany professor from the eastern city of Baida, who happens to be the personal aide to rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil.

"My guy in Benghazi can get word to the right people, who then go to NATO and tell them where to bomb," said Mr. Mukhtar. Mr. Fuhaima confirmed he had received the air-support request from Mr. Mukhtar and said it was relayed up the chain to NATO.

Another commander on the front lines, Col. Mohammed Khufair, of the Ali Hassan Jaber Brigade, said a system has been put in place within the past week in which rebel commanders could call in requests for air support to the rebel command center. But he said the center received a lot of calls from volunteer fighters that weren't always reliable, and other field commanders interviewed didn't seem to be aware of the system.

—Sam Dagher in Tripoli contributed to this article.
Write to Charles Levinson at and Stephen Fidler at

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