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African Union Refuses Appeals to Recognize Libya’s Rebels

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma (L) talks with Ramtane Lamamra, the African Union (AU) Commissioner for Peace and Security, during an emergency summit of the AU Peace and Security Council in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, August 26, 2011
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma (L) talks with Ramtane Lamamra, the African Union (AU) Commissioner for Peace and Security, during an emergency summit of the AU Peace and Security Council in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, August 26, 2011

The African Union [AU] has rejected calls for recognition of Libya’s rebel Transitional National Council. The decision highlights Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s lingering influence at the continental organization he headed as recently as two years ago.

United Nations Deputy Secretary General Asha Rose Migiro opened an African Union Peace and Security summit Friday by urging the continental body to recognize Libya’s new political reality.

"We must help the country’s new leaders to establish an effective, legitimate government - a government that represents and speaks for all the country’s diverse people; a government that can deliver on its people’s hopes," said Migiro.

Rebel leaders face pushback

But in a setback for Libya’s rebel leaders, the 15-member Peace and Security Council rejected Migiro’s plea. A communiqué read by AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra called instead for a transitional government that would include Gadhafi loyalists.

"[It] encourages the Libyan stakeholders to accelerate the process leading to formation of an all-inclusive transitional government," said Lamamra.

The continental body’s refusal to accept what many consider the reality in Libya was met with consternation in many western capitals. The U.S. ambassador to the African Union, Michael Battle, noted that 20 of the 54 AU member states have joined the broader international community in recognizing the rebel TNC.

"They’re at the very brink of sealing the deal in terms of a complete military victory, and with that comes the ushering in of a new government, a new day and a new order," said Battle. "And that’s what the international community was expecting to see, as the Arab league and so many international bodies have already recognized the reality of the TNC."

Zuma asserts alternate scenario

South African President Jacob Zuma, who presided over the security summit, rejected suggestions that TNC victory is certain. He told reporters many African leaders see another reality.

"The reality on the ground is that there is fighting going on in Tripoli. Is that not a reality? People are still dying [in] very heavy fighting. That is the situation as we understand it, which is a reality in Libya," said Zuma. "And we are taking our position informed by that reality. We are looking at the reality from our point of view."

Libya’s AU ambassador, Ali Abdallah Awidan, downplayed the significance of the Peace and Security Council’s inaction. Awidan, who this week switched his allegiance to the TNC, called the decision a temporary setback.

"Very soon all Libya will be under control of the TNC, and TNC will be representing the whole Libya, and this is not a problem. It’s only for the time being," said Awidan.

Gadhafi's continuing clout

AU diplomats say the refusal to recognize Libya’s rebels reflects the respect and influence Gadhafi still commands within the continental organization. For years he used his vast oil wealth to support many African causes and liberation movements, including the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.

He also has been a driving force within the organization during his 42-year rule, and held the AU chairmanship in 2009.

Until this year, Libya has been one of the AU’s chief financial backers, paying dues that amounted to nearly 15 percent of all member state contributions. In addition, Gadhafi paid the dues of several poorer countries, estimated by observers to total $40 million a year in all.

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