African club defends role in Libya conflict
Senior African envoy Jean Ping has told the EU and Nato that the African Union is keen to end the Libya crisis by diplomacy, not war, and with Russian help.
Speaking at a press conference at the European Commission in Brussels on Wednesday (1 June), Ping, a former Gabonese foreign minister and a top civil servant in the African Union, said the club's peace plan remains valid despite recent setbacks.
"Our roadmap is clear ... we are seeking a political solution to the crisis, there's been a military solution for some time and we are seeking a political solution and there we believe we have a fundamental contribution to make."
The five-point roadmap calls for a ceasefire, access to aid, political dialogue, a transitional period and political reform.
The EU and Nato have ruled out talking to Gaddafi and said he must step down from power, even as Nato jets hit bunkers in Tripoli in what some commentators have called targeted assassination attempts.
The rebel council in Benghazi has also rejected the peace plan. Gaddafi himself in April and again on Monday during a personal visit to Tripoli by South African leader Jacob Zuma, has refused to sign up.
Ping on Wednesday said there was "no tension or anger" in his meetings with EU, Nato and US leaders.
He described Libya as primarily an African rather than a geopolitical problem: "In future this will affect countries such as Mauritania, Mali, Sudan and Somalia, but not Qatar, so Libya is very much part of Africa ... Libya is in Africa and we cannot find a solution that will not involve Africa."
He added that Russia - Gaddafi's top arms supplier, which has criticised Nato bombing from the outset - could play a role in peace talks. "If the Russians want to help us find a solution, they are very welcome to do so," he said.
For his part, EU commission head Barroso avoided the subject of competing approaches to the conflict.
He indicated that EU countries and the US are no longer in a position to dictate terms to African "client" states, however.
"During that era [the Cold War], there was this idea of the West, which had its client states, those they wanted to support even if they weren't democratic, and on the other side of the fence you had the Soviet Union, so you had a kind of peace based on this client-related principle," he explained.
"I don't think Africa is currently thinking of itself as a customer of our part of the world - this is a new, young Africa, we've seen this in Tunisia, in Egypt and in other parts of sub-Saharan Africa."
He noted that democratically-elected leaders recently took power in the Ivory Coast, Guinea-Conakry and Niger.
The meeting between the African Union and the EU commission's top civil servants is a more low key affair than the EU-African Union summit, which is attended by selected member state PMs.
In a sign of the times, the last summit-level meeting took place in Tripoli last November and was hosted by Gaddafi.
[Source: Euobserver, Brussels, 01Jun11]
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