The news came as eight Libyan army officers including five generals appeared at a news conference arranged by the Italian government in Rome, saying they were part of a group of as many as 120 military officials and soldiers who defected from the Gadhafi regime in recent days.
The generals appealed to remaining Gadhafi loyalists in the army and security services to abandon the regime “in the name of the martyrs who have fallen in the defense of freedom” and alleged that Libyan forces fighting in cities including Misrata had perpetrated atrocities against civilians.
The defections came after the rebels’ political leadership offered an amnesty over the weekend to all those who would abandon the regime.
The latest defections follow a trend of top Libyan officials who have abandoned the regime as sanctions and relentless NATO bombing campaign, now into its third month, have raised pressure on Col. Gadhafi’s embattled government. Gadhafi’s military is now fighting rebel forces on three fronts—in the enclave around rebel-held Misrata, to the west in the Nafusa mountains and against the main opposition forces in Brega and Ajdabiya in Libya’s east.
In Tripoli, Mr. Zuma told South African and Libyan media that Col. Gadhafi would accept an African Union proposal to broker an immediate cease-fire including an end to NATO strikes in support of rebel forces. Those terms, proposed last month during an earlier mediation mission by Zuma were rejected by the rebel as they didn’t include Col. Gadhafi’s exit from power.
“He is ready to implement the road map,” Mr. Zuma said, adding that Col. Gadhafi insisted; “all Libyans be given a chance to talk among themselves” to determine the country’s future. Mr. Zuma did not mention whether Col. Gadhafi is ready to step down, the key demand of the rebels.
There was no immediate reaction from rebel leaders in their stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya but the head of the rebels’ National Transitional Council said over the weekend that all cease-fire initiatives not predicated on the departure of Col. Gadhafi, his family and senior regime figures would be rejected.
Libyan state television broadcast footage of Col. Gadhafi welcoming Mr. Zuma, the first public appearance of the Libyan leader since May 11, when he was shown meeting tribal chiefs. In Benghazi, crowds gathered Monday night in front of the central courthouse, site of nightly rebel-organized concerts and speeches, started throwing shoes against a wall on which a news bulletin showing Col. Gadhafi meeting with Mr. Zuma was being projected.
Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at a Monday meeting of Nato’s parliamentary assembly in Bulgaria also sought to maintain pressure on the Gadhafi regime, stressing that the military alliance’s campaign was achieving its objectives and that the Gadhafi regime’s “reign of terror is coming to an end.” “He is increasingly isolated at home and abroad. Even those closest to him are departing, defecting or deserting….It is time for Gaddafi to go as well,” the NATO chief said.
Libyan officials have insisted Mr. Zuma’s meeting with Col. Gadhafi—under the auspices of the African Union—would offer a “breakthrough” that would aid the regime’s efforts to halt the NATO bombing campaign. But optimism over the prospect of an African Union-backed cease-fire deal has been dimmed by Russia’s shift to join calls for Col. Gadhafi to leave power. Moscow had previously criticized NATO’s campaign even though it refused to veto the United Nations resolution authorizing the use of force to protect civilians. But President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday backed a Group of Eight statement calling for Col. Gadhafi’s ouster, appearing to further limit the diplomatic options available to Libya’s strongman after 42 years in power.
Flanked by a contingent of heavily armed South African troops in armored jeeps, Mr. Zuma was met by Libyan Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi and a host of dignatries on arrival at Mitega airport on the outskirts of Tripoli. Flag-waving Gadhafi loyalists chanting pro-regime slogans mobbed the president, but Col. Gadhafi himself was absent.
The South African president briefly sat down with the Libyan prime minister before being whisked to meet Col. Gadhafi at an undisclosed location. President Zuma also visited the site of the house where Col. Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Arab, and three grandsons were killed by a Nato airstrike earlier this month, Libya’s state news agency Jana reported.
[Editor:] Take note that Libya’s leader (Gadaffi) has been involved with state-sponsored terrorism. He has been involved with Assassination of critics abroad,
terrorist attack on La Belle night club in West Berlin, supported radicals/terrorists in Phillipines, Indonesia, Australia, Britain, Austria, Germany, Italy, USA, Latin America. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muammar_Gaddafi