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South Africa President Jacob Zuma was expected in Tripoli Monday for talks that officials said will focus on an "exit

Jacob Zuma; new mediation

South Africa President in Tripoli for talks that will focus on finding end to conflict in Libya.


By Jean-Pierre Campagne – BENGHAZI, Libya

strategy" for Moamer Gathafi, as Libyan rebels applauded a G8 call for the strongman to go.

A source in Zuma's office, on condition of anonymity, has said that "the purpose (of the visit) is to discuss an exit strategy for Gathafi," while another said South Africa was working with Turkey on the exit plan.

Zuma's spokesman Zizi Kodwa insisted however that discussion of an exit strategy was "misleading," saying the visit was taking place within African Union efforts for Libya to adopt the political reforms needed to end the crisis.

"The entire world has reached a consensus that Colonel Gathafi and his regime have not only lost their legitimacy but also their credibility," rebel leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil said meanwhile from the rebels' Benghazi bastion.

"I would like to welcome the position taken... by the G8 where members emphasised the necessity of Colonel Gathafi's departure," he said in a message marking 100 days since the outbreak of the anti-regime revolt.

"The position taken by the G8 is reflective of the will of the international community as well as the demands and aspirations of the Libyan people."

On Friday, G8 leaders from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States called for Gathafi to step down after more than 40 years in the face of pro-democracy protests turned full-fledged armed revolt.

Russia at the same time finally joined explicit calls for Gathafi to go.

The Libyan regime responded by saying any initiative to resolve the crisis would have to go through the African Union.

"The G8 is an economic summit. We are not concerned by its decisions," said Tripoli's deputy foreign minister, Khaled Kaaim.

"We are an African country. Any initiative outside the AU framework will be rejected," he said.

Kaaim, who confirmed Zuma's visit Monday, did not indicate whether Gathafi's departure would be discussed.

In a statement on the eve of the visit, Zuma's ruling African National Congress slammed the NATO bombing of Libya.

"We also join the continent and all peace loving people of the world in condemning the continuing aerial bombardments of Libya by Western forces," it said after a two-day meeting of its executive council.

Turkey last month gave the international community, including the African Union, a proposed "roadmap" to end the Libyan turmoil by removing Gathafi and opening the way for a comprehensive political transition.

The oil chief in the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) led by Jalil, meanwhile, appealed to the international community to come to the financial rescue of the anti-Gathafi camp.

"I don't have any resources, not a cent," Ali Tarhuni told reporters in Benghazi. "We're in a critical situation. Our friends must remember that we are at war."

Tarhuni, pointing out that rebels were not pumping oil "for security reasons," said Libyans are "dying every day in the towns" besieged by Gathafi's forces. "We have brave fighters but it's hard to fight on an empty stomach."

In his statement late on Saturday, Jalil accused Gathafi's forces of attacking rebel-held cities in the Nafusa mountains of western Libya "with heavy artillery, tanks and rocket launchers."

"They continue to shell and besiege the city of Misrata, and also impose arbitrary measures that include random arrests, torture, and raids of homes in the city of Tripoli, Zawiyah, Zwara, and many other cities.

"We witness how Colonel Gathafi presents initiatives to fool the world and create the illusion that he is in search of peace," Jalil said.

"It is with this in mind that we would like to reconfirm that the basis of any consideration for the resolution of the Libyan crisis is the removal of the main reason for this crisis, Colonel Gathafi.

"As such, there is no room for negotiation until his departure and the departure of his regime."

In its latest operational update released on Sunday, NATO said it struck a vehicle storage facility in Tripoli and a command and control node near the capital, as it targeted Gathafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound for a fourth successive day.

Ammunition dumps, tanks and artillery pieces were also hit in or near towns under attack by Gathafi's forces.

On the humanitarian front, Italian coastguards rescued 210 refugees from the Libya conflict whose vessel was drifting aimlessly in the Mediterranean south of Lampedusa, prompting Rome to accuse Malta of inaction.



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