African leaders are holding a two-day security summit focused on shaping more timely and coordinated responses to crises on the continent. The opening day's discussions at African Union headquarters revealed deep divisions about how to move to a post-Gadhafi Libya.
Moammar Gadhafi's government asked for the continental summit after initial AU moves to intervene in Libya were sidelined by the more muscular United Nations Security Council response. But, as closed-door meetings dragged on into the early hours Thursday, the discussion appeared to be bogged down in arguments about strategy.
Diplomats attending the session say, for the first time, the debate included suggestions the AU should state clearly that Gadhafi must leave power as part of any negotiated solution. That position is likely to be rejected, given Gadhafi's stature and support within the organization. Indeed, it would have been unthinkable, months ago, before Libya's popular uprising broke out.
A small minority of African countries has broken diplomatic relations with Tripoli. Only this week, former Gadhafi ally Senegal recognized the rebel Transitional National Council.
A brief opening session also revealed deep resentment among African leaders at being pushed aside as world powers, through the United Nations, set the agenda on Libya. Ambassadors say last week's joint meeting between the AU and U.N. Security Councils was marred by harsh exchanges on the subject.
With U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon attending Wednesday's opening, African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping was scathing in his criticism. He spoke in French, with an interpreter.
"Certain international players seem to have denied Africa any control in this search for a peaceful solution of the situation in Libya. Africa should not be a spectator in what is happening to it," Ping said.
He is calling on other international actors to defer to AU leadership in seeking an immediate ceasefire and negotiations led by a panel of African heads of state. Ping says the current approach, including NATO air strikes, is not working.
"Despite the effort made to date, there seems to be no solution in the offing," Ping said. "On the ground, the situation is desperate and marked by the continued fighting between the various sides and also operations of NATO that seem to be increasing in intensity."
However, U.N. Secretary-General Ban argues the world body has prevented a catastrophe in Libya by moving quickly to protect civilians caught in the conflict. He says the entire U.N. organization is committed to achieving the goals set out by African leaders.
"Last night, I spoke at length with the Libyan prime minister to listen to his concerns over the recent intensified bombing campaign," Ban said. "I reiterated the urgent need for a real ceasefire and serious negotiations on a transition to a government that fully meets the aspirations of the Libyan people."
Libya's delegation at the meeting is being led by Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi. Representatives of the rebel Transitional National Council are also on hand, but are not participating in the discussions.
In the past, the TNC has flatly rejected the AU plan because it does not explicitly call for Gadhafi's removal. Still, TNC officials say they would welcome a more prominent African Union role in seeking a negotiated settlement.