African Union demands end to NATO Libya strikes

African leaders on Thursday called for an end to NATO airstrikes on Libya to pave the way for a political solution to the conflict.

The leaders made the call after a summit dedicated to Libya held at the African Union headquarters here.

"As far as NATO airstrikes are concerned... you will see (in the summit declaration) a clear call by heads of state and government for those airstrikes to come to an end," said Ramtane Lamamra, AU Peace and Security Commissioner.

"This is part of the requirement for political solutions to become possible," he said, adding: "The African Union shares the belief ... that what is taking place now goes beyond the scope of (UN resolutions) 1970 and 1973."

But the head of the Libyan rebels' National Transitional Council delegation to the AU summit said the NATO strikes had prevented mass civilian killings by Moamer Kadhafi's regime.

"If it were not for the NATO, we would have had massacres in Libya similar to those that happened in Rwanda," said Abdalla Alzubedi.

"They have been mainly targeting military positions to protect civilians. Civilians are still under attack by the regime in so many cities all over Libya," he added, also calling for a peaceful solution to the crisis.

The pan-African bloc also sought a stronger say in resolving the conflict.

"Some international players seem to be denying Africa any significant role in the search for a solution to the Libyan conflict," AU Commission chief Jean Ping said at the start of the summit.

"Africa is not going to be reduced to the status of an observer of its own calamities."

The AU meeting wrapped up as the G8 summit got under way in the French seaside resort of Deauville. Ping expects to arrive in Deauville first thing on Friday, he told AFP in Addis Ababa.

African heads of state attending the G8 will include South Africa's Jacob Zuma, Senegal's Abdoulaye Wade and Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, Ping said.

The pan-African bloc has called for a Libyan ceasefire and set up a high-level mediation team, but its efforts have had little impact on the ground as Western powers continue with air raids against Kadhafi's regime.

The ceasefire plan put forward by the AU that included a transition period to organise elections was accepted by Kadhafi himself but rejected by the Libyan rebels who insisted on his departure first.

The AU's proposals for resolving Libya's months-long crisis, including a mediation team made up of African heads of state, have largely been snubbed, most recently even by South Africa.

Before the talks even opened in Addis Ababa Wednesday, Zuma's office said he would visit Tripoli for talks with Kadhafi next week.

Presidency sources said the talks would focus on Kadhafi's "exit strategy."

Libya's rebels have not warmed to the AU's overtures either, wary of the ties between the continental body and Kadhafi, who is one of the bloc's main financiers.

However Ping insisted that "the roadmap proposed by the AU has all the elements for a solution. We need to be given the opportunity to effect it."

Libya has been mired in a bloody conflict pitting Kadhafi's forces against opposition rebels since the eruption of massive anti-government protests in mid-February.

An international coalition intervened on March 19, launching air raids and missile strikes under a UN mandate aimed at protecting civilians from Kadhafi's forces. NATO took command of the air campaign on March 31.

The alliance this week intensified its bombardments, seeking to deliver a decisive blow to Kadhafi's government.

[Source: By Otto Bakano, AFP, Addis Ababa, 26May11]

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