Libyan rebels are studying a truce proposal from the African Union, a day after Libya's embattled President Muammar Qaddafi signaled that he would be willing to explore a cease-fire to allow humanitarian organizations access to civilians caught in the crossfire.
The AU’s proposed “road map” to peace comes at a time when both Mr. Qaddafi’s forces and the rebels have shown signs of fatigue, with battlefield gains by one quickly erased by the other. A long-term settlement is still far off, as rebels say the only way they’ll agree to open discussions with the regime is if Qaddafi’s forces retreat and if Qaddafi himself steps down. Yet even if the cease-fire proves to be temporary, the AU’s efforts may help to quiet criticism of the AU as ineffective in times of conflict.
“This has significance beyond Libya,” says Steven Friedman, a senior political observer and head of the Center for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg. “Five years ago, some of the responses we are seeing today would not have been possible. We are now at the stage where the AU is willing to step in and intervene in a conflict.”
A panel of five African presidents, including South African President Jacob Zuma, flew to Tripoli on Sunday to propose the cease-fire on humanitarian grounds, urging both sides to explore dialogue that would lead to a peaceful settlement.
The AU presidents also urged NATO to stop its air campaign against Qaddafi’s forces, a campaign that was itself backed by the United Nations Security Council in the interests of protecting civilians against Qaddafi’s use of heavy weapons in urban areas.
By organizing talks in Libya, the AU is taking back responsibility for resolving conflicts that many African leaders see as having been taken away from them when the UN Security Council approved a “no fly zone” in the spirit of protecting civilians.
In addition to its work in Libya, the AU has also been active in trying to broker peace talks in Ivory Coast, albeit with much less success so far. The AU has sent several high-level delegations to persuade incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and President-elect Alassane Ouattara to support a cease-fire and explore the possibility of a power-sharing government. Both men claim to have won the Nov. 28, 2010, runoff elections, although Mr. Ouattara's claim has the benefit of broad support from the international community as well as the Ivory Coast's own independent electoral commission.
'Libyans must decide'
In Tripoli on Monday, the AU commissioner for peace and security, Ramtane Lamamra, told reporters that "it's not up to any outside force, even the African Union itself, to decide on the behalf of the Libyan people on who the leader of the country should be.”
President Zuman of South Africa portrayed Qaddafi’s acceptance of the proposed “road map” to peace as a victory for the AU, and urged NATO to curb its aerial attacks.
"[Qaddafi's] delegation has accepted the road map as presented by us,” Zuma said after meeting Qaddafi. “We have to give cease-fire a chance."
But analysts caution against a plan that Qaddafi could see as bolstering his long-term prospects.
“If the deal is simply intended to allow humanitarian relief to have access, I don’t think anyone will have a problem with that,” adds Mr. Friedman. “The fear is that this will be an attempt to prop him [Qaddafi] up and keep him in power.”