They are deeply skeptical about the neutrality of the African Union, which they see as packed with Gaddafi’s allies. They are also likely to be disappointed by a peace plan that fails to wring any concessions from Libya’s leader at the outset, despite the brutal suppression of protests in February in which hundreds of people were shot and thousands were arrested.
South African President Jacob Zuma, who formed part of a delegation of five African presidents who visited Tripoli on Sunday, said the plan will be presented to the rebels in the eastern city of Benghazi on Monday.
“Brother Leader [Gaddafi] and his delegation have accepted the road map as presented by the high panel of the A.U.,” he told reporters after meeting Gaddafi in his sprawling Bab al-Aziziyah compound.
In a statement later, the African Union said the plan had four elements: a cease-fire; cooperation from the authorities to guarantee safe passage for humanitarian aid; the protection of foreign nationals, including African migrant workers; and dialogue.
That dialogue would take place during a transition period, “with the view to adopting and implementing the political reforms necessary for the elimination of the causes of the current crisis, including democracy, political reform, justice, peace and security, as well as socio-economic development,” the statement said.
But many political experts believe democracy is fundamentally incompatible with a totalitarian regime based around Gaddafi’s personality cult and say compromise between the rebels and the government would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.
Before seeing the statement, which was released Monday morning here, the rebels said they would not sign on to any plan that fell short of the departure of Gaddafi and his sons.
“It’s very simple, and this is the Libyan people’s opinion. If it does not include his departure, resigning his job, it won’t be accepted by the street,” rebel spokesman Mustafa Gheriani said.
“Him and his family have to go,” he added. “Gaddafi has to cease fire and stop killing his people and take his troops back to their barracks.”
Gaddafi met the A.U. delegation clearly hoping for a more sympathetic hearing from his African peers than he got in many other parts of the world, after spreading billions of dollars of oil-funded largess across the continent for decades.
Zuma said that he would not be able to continue to Benghazi, the de facto rebel capital, because of other commitments but that other members of the A.U. team would go there “to talk to everybody and, therefore, to present our solution, our political solution to the problem in Libya.”
Zuma said the plan would also include “a call to NATO to cease the bombings to allow and to give the cease-fire a chance that we are negotiating with the parties,” although this was not mentioned in the communique.
Although South Africa voted in favor of United Nations resolution 1973 authorizing military action in Libya, Zuma has since said that NATO’s airstrikes were against the “letter and spirit” of the resolution and were part of a “regime-change doctrine.”
The A.U. delegation included the presidents of Congo, Mali, Mauritania and Uganda. Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni also has been critical of the NATO air campaign.
Meanwhile, fighting continued Sunday in the strategic eastern city of Ajdabiya for the second day in a row. By late afternoon, rebels said they had control of the city, which serves as a buffer to Benghazi and was almost deserted of civilians.
NATO airstrikes slammed into government tanks outside the western gate of Ajdabiya, and opposition officials sent forces to southern oil fields to protect their economic lifeline from Gaddafi's troops.
Members of the rebels’ Transitional National Council met with Western diplomats in hotels to discuss the role of NATO, which has come under severe criticism for not striking Gaddafi troops in time to avert humanitarian crises or advances by government forces.
Gaddafi's forces have adapted to the air campaign, driving civilian vehicles and dressing like the rebels, to avoid strikes. In some cases, they have put tanks in the center of civilian populations to stop NATO from striking.
“What used to be a target-rich environment is now a target-poor environment,” said one Western diplomat emerging from a meeting in Benghazi on Sunday.
The diplomat added that there was no talk of coalition ground troops entering Libya and that the rebel council understood the difficulties NATO faces. He added that it would take just one “catastrophic” bombing that killed civilians to undermine the NATO mission.
He called the eastern uprising “pure” and said he was hopeful that the rebels would succeed.
“I only see this going one way,” he said, referring to Gaddafi's ouster. “It's only a matter of when.”
Fadel reported from Benghazi.