African Union seeks dialogue on Libya

By Aaron Maasho

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – The African Union is planning to facilitate talks to help end the conflict in Libya between the government and rebel forces, it said Friday.

“The AU action is … aiming at facilitating dialogue between the Libyan parties on reforms to be launched to eliminate the root causes of the conflict,” the union’s commission chairman Jean Ping told a meeting in Addis Ababa, adding that the process should end with democratic elections.

It was the first statement by the AU, which had rejected any form of foreign intervention in the Libya crisis, since the U.N. Security Council imposed a no-fly zone last week and a Western coalition began air strikes on Libyan military targets.

“It is important that we agree on such an approach in order to ensure lasting peace, security and democracy in Libya,” Ping told the meeting, attended by representatives from Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi’s government, the United States, France and the United Nations among others.

“We have to be forward-looking in our meeting and not split hairs with controversies relating to differences that have ruined our relationship in the past. We have to be pragmatic as to identifying the actions we can undertake together,” he said.

Gaddafi’s representative to the meeting, at which the rebels were not represented as earlier reported, called for an end to air strikes and said the government was committed to upholding a ceasefire it declared Sunday.

“We demand the cessation of the air bombardment and the naval blockade … 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,” speaker of the people’s assembly, Mohammed Zowe, told the meeting.

“With the help of the African Union and under its auspices, the Libyan people are capable of resolving their problems peacefully.”

Western leaders deny any civilians have been killed in almost a week of air strikes.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council Thursday there was no evidence Tripoli was complying with U.N. resolutions or its own ceasefire declaration.

He said his special envoy to Libya had warned Gaddafi’s government of possible “additional measures” if Libya failed to comply with its ceasefire demand.

(Editing by George Obulutsa and Philippa Fletcher)

African Union seeks dialogue on Libya