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African Union Urges Libya Dialogue

ADDIS ABABA, Mar 26 2011 (IPS) - The Libyan government has agreed to a range of proposals from the African Union at a high level meeting held in Addis Ababa Friday, including democratic reforms and talks with the rebels.

“[Libya] is committed to a cease-fire,” reads a statement issued in the Ethiopian capital at the end of the meeting, “and the international community should impose the same obligations on the other parties. [Libya] is also committed to an observer mission of the African Union to monitor the cease-fire.”

Earlier in the week, African Union chief Jean Ping said the AU meeting aimed at coming up with a road map to resolve the crisis, including the formation of a transitional government, the holding of elections and the building of democratic institutions to meet the aspirations of all Libyans.

The meeting was attended by a wide range of interested parties, including the UK, France and other European countries that are part of the U.S.-dominated coalition carrying out air and naval strikes against Libyan government forces; the United Nations, which authorised a no-fly zone, an embargo and measures to protect civilians; Russia and China, which abstained from the vote on the U.N. resolution and have been critical of foreign military action thus far; and representatives of Libya’s neighbours, such as Algeria.

Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi sent a delegation led by Mohammad Al-Zawi, Speaker of the People’s Congress, but the rebel Transitional National Council, crucially, declined to attend the meeting, demanding that Gaddafi’s stepping down be placed on the agenda. Direct talks do not seem an immediate possibility.

Window on the war

Malian press reports on the Libyan war have generally been critical of external military intervention. In an editorial titled "Divide to destroy", L'Aube newspaper said: "The fact is, the West has managed to play on the divisions within Africa and the Arab world to attack Libya. Divide to destroy, there, in reality, is a neo-colonial policy."

But Le Prétoire, another newspaper based in Bamako, this week carried the headline "Gaddafi, angel or demon" on an article that placed the Libyan leader among African dictators who think their countries have no future without them.

Coverage of the Libyan war has also dominated the news in Uganda, with all the major English newspapers carrying the conflict as their main story. Bukedde, the leading Luganda language paper, dedicated four full pages to the crisis on Friday.

The state broadcaster declined to show even a single image of protest from Libya in February while Uganda's presidential election campaign was at its height; they have since fallen in line with other news outlets, broadcasting wire stories and images.

James Odong, a researcher at parliament and a former journalist, was critical of Ugandan media for largely relying on articles from the Western, which he said was unbalanced. "Why wouldn’t New Vision for example send its war correspondents to Libya? All I’m reading from Libya is from the western media wires. And for me I think we should do more."

In Brazzaville, Edouard Adzotsa, secretary general of the Communications Professionals Union Federation, FUSTIGE the selective broadcast of images of the conflict on TéléCongo, the national television channel.

"It's only thanks to foreign channels that Congolese are following what's going on in the Arab world," he said.

"The national tv station shows images selectively, trying to illustrate the government's position that Libya has been attacked. There is no other analysis made."

Gaddafi’s representatives said nearly a week of bombing had claimed hundreds of civilian lives.

“We demand the cessation of the air bombardment and the naval blockade carried out by Western forces and the United States, for the invalidity of its argument to protect civilians since it is killing them by the hundreds and is attacking and destroying our armed forces, and paving the way for the other side to attack,” said al-Zawi.

Ping said the African Union is pushing for political reforms in Libya through dialogue, and called on all parties to immediately end hostilities, allow humanitarian workers to provide aid and protect all foreign nationals residing in the country.

The view from Africa

The civil war in Libya has provoked mixed reactions across Africa.

In Brazzaville, the government of the Republic of Congo has denounced the air and naval bombardment of Libya by the coalition. “We do not support the bombardments, and all that is taking place presently. We don’t think this will produce a solution,” Daniel Owassa, secretary general of Foreign Affairs, told IPS.

Congo is one of the five countries on the African Union panel formed earlier in March to establish a dialogue between the protagonists in Libya’s civil war.

“The bombardment will prevent the panel from working – it must stop,” said Owassa.

But Congolese public opinion is divided.

Roger Bouka Owoko, executive director of the Congolese Human Rights Observatory, is among those who approve the coalition’s military action. “All those who condemn the bombing – beginning with Congo itself – are those who have eaten with Gaddafi. He’s a bandit who has killed more than 10,000 people and there are heads of state who still support him. So those who are dead, are they dogs or rats?”

Mali is also a member of the AU panel. Though its government has not made a public statement on Libya, reaction in the street to air strikes in Libya has been powerful. Responding to a call from Islamist associations, thousands took part in a march supporting Gaddafi’s regime in Bamako on Friday, chanting slogans against French president Nicholas Sarkozy and U.S. leader Barack Obama.

Support for Gaddafi from Malian Muslims is not by chance. “Gaddafi alone does more for Mali than the entire West,” says Yacouba Berté, a resident of Bamako who did not hide his anger at the attacks. “He has built more than 300 Islamic schools and pays salaries for the teachers there.”

Malians are strongly represented among the thousands of African migrants who the war has forced out of their homes in Libya, the widely-reported involvement of mercenaries from south of the Sahara on Gaddafi’s side aggravating already-entrenched racism and discrimination against black Africans who have been threatened and attacked in rebel-held areas.

In Kampala, Ugandan Foreign Affairs Minister Henry Okello Oryem has addressed parliament on the implications of the Libyan war for safety of Ugandans living there, on regional peace and security, and confirmed that Libyan assets in Uganda will be frozen in line with U.N. sanctions.

President Yoweri Museveni has condemned the airstrikes in a lengthy statement, and in a debate in parliament, General Elly Tumwine – Uganda’s army is represented by its own members of parliament – described the coalition attacks as rape.

“Anytime a powerful person humiliates a weak one is similar to rape,” he said. “The methods used to reach the decision were unprecedented in terms of the time, in terms of the participation, and more boldly and missing was the African participation.”

This provoked protest from opposition MPs who said, pointedly, that the military action should be a warning against African leaders clinging to power or involved in human rights violations.

“If this House is going to condemn the Western world,” said Uganda Peoples Congress MP Livingstone Okello Okello, “that condemnation will be without me. I cannot condemn people who are trying to save lives from somebody who is killing his own people, not even foreigners.”

*Soumaïla Diarra in Bamako, Wambi Michael in Kampala and Arsène Séverin in Brazzaville contributed to this report.

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