June 22, 2011 / 11:13 AM / 9 years ago

Libya stalemate will push West to back AU plan

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - The chairman of the African Union believes the West will inevitably come round to accepting the organisation’s plan for a ceasefire in Libya as NATO’s bombing campaign has failed to dislodge Muammar Gaddafi.

African Union President Jean Ping holds a news conference after a meeting at the European Commission in Brussels June 1, 2011. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Jean Ping told Reuters in an interview that the deadlock risked splitting the North African country in half and leading to a Somalia-style conflict, where warlords and Islamist militants took advantage of the power vacuum.

“(The bombing campaign) was something which they thought would take 15 days,” Ping, chairman of the AU Commission, said.

“The stalemate is already there. There is no other way (than the AU plan). They will (endorse it).”

The AU roadmap calls for an immediate end to hostilities to pave the way for establishment of a transition period but it makes no mention of Gaddafi’s future.

“There’s a risk of partition between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania,” said Ping, referring to the Italian colonial names for Libya’s eastern coastal region, the rebels’ stronghold, and the region surrounding the capital Tripoli.

“And there is the risk of the “Somalia-isation” of the country, the regime was based on tribes, which could be dangerous not only for Libya but also for all the neighbouring countries.”

Libya’s rebels reject the peace plan, demanding Gaddafi’s immediate exit.

NATO’s airstrikes are authorised by a U.N. resolution permitting attacks to protect Libyan citizens. But the leaders of the United States, France and Britain have publicly said Gaddafi must go.

Ping said the bloc’s roadmap addressed the question of a change of government.

“All of these issues are there, including the necessity of changing a system, not only one or two men but a system. The last objective of our position is Libya should make the necessary reforms to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people,” he said.

DIVISIONS, PRESSURE AND “BLACKMAIL”

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma has twice visited Tripoli for talks with Gaddafi on the AU roadmap but said an exit strategy for the veteran leader was never discussed.

The AU has accused Western nations of undermining its efforts to find a homegrown solution to the conflict. Although its peace plan is endorsed as an official continental stance, its elements have stoked divisions among the 53 member nations.

But there are signs that support for Gaddafi among his erstwhile allies in Africa, where his largesse once brought him the title “King of Kings”, is waning.

Some countries such as Senegal and Gambia have recognised the rebels as the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people. Others including Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi have privately called for a tougher AU stance against Gaddafi during close-door sessions.

Ping predicted more countries would recognise the rebel council but blamed outside pressure for such moves.

“This number is increasing, and due to pressure it will increase again,” he said. “Some countries are threatening and even blackmailing some of these countries. Some are in the position where they can not resist this pressure.”

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