Muammar Gaddafi is ready for a truce to stop the fighting in his country, the visiting South African president said after meeting the Libyan ruler, but he listed familiar Gaddafi conditions that have scuttled previous cease-fire efforts.
Rebels quickly rejected the offer.
South African President Jacob Zuma said Gaddafi is ready to accept an African Union initiative for a cease-fire that would stop all hostilities, including Nato airstrikes in support of rebel forces.
“He is ready to implement the road map,” Mr Zuma said.
Mr Zuma said Gaddafi insists that “all Libyans be given a chance to talk among themselves” to determine the country’s future.
He did not say Gaddafi is ready to step down, which is the central demand of the rebels. He was speaking to reporters from South African and Libyan TV, which broadcast his remarks late yesterday.
In April, Mr Zuma led a delegation of the African Union to Tripoli with an AU proposal for a truce.
Gaddafi said he would accept the truce but quickly ignored it and resumed his attacks, while the rebels rejected the cease-fire out of hand because it did not include Gaddafi’s exit from power. Since then many cease-fire efforts have failed for similar reasons.
In Benghazi, the de facto rebel capital, rebel Foreign Minister Fathi Baja 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 said.
He said he believes Mr Zuma was in Tripoli to negotiate an exit strategy for Gaddafi, though Mr Zuma’s office denies that. Mr Baja also said the rebels would launch an offensive against Gaddafi soon.
For decades Gaddafi has identified Libya as an African as much as an Arab nation. He disbursed millions of dollars in aid to African nations and built himself up as a leader of the continent.
Mr Zuma was greeted with all the requisite fanfare by Gaddafi’s beleaguered regime. Dozens of Gaddafi supporters, brought in for the welcoming, waved green Libyan flags and chanted slogans denouncing the Nato bombing campaign against Libyan government targets.
Nato temporarily lifted its no-fly zone over Libya to allow Mr Zuma’s South African air force plane to land at the main military air base next to Tripoli.
In Rome, an indication that Gaddafi’s regime is losing support came from eight top Libyan army officers, including five generals, who defected from Gaddafi’s military. They appealed to their fellow officers to join the revolt.
Several senior officials, including at least three Cabinet ministers, have abandoned Gaddafi during the uprising that began in February. Even so, he clings tenaciously to power, and the military units still loyal to him are far superior to the forces available to the rebels.
One of the officers, General Melud Massoud Halasa, estimated that Gaddafi’s military forces are now “only 20% as effective” as what they were before the revolt broke out in mid-February, and that “not more than 10” generals remain loyal to Gaddafi.
General On Ali On read an appeal to fellow army officers and top police and security officials “in the name of the martyrs who have fallen in the defence of freedom to have the courage” to abandon the regime.
The general, wearing street clothes like his fellow defectors, denounced both “genocide” and “violence against women in various Libyan cities”.
An anti-government activist based in Tripoli said that dozens of residents angrily chanted against Gaddafi’s rule in a rare demonstration in the Libyan capital yesterday.