African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping has opened an international conference on Libya with a call for an immediate end to hostilities and dialogue between the Gadhafi government and rebels. But a hoped-for appearance by a Libyan rebel representative failed to materialize.
The meeting brings together the main players in effort to prevent hostilities in Libya from descending into full-scale civil war.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was represented, as were as all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Libya’s North African neighbors, along with partners in the coalition imposing the no-fly zone. Moammar Gadhafi sent a five-member delegation led by the speaker of the People’s Congress.
The main disappointment was the absence of the anti-Gadhafi rebels. A senior African diplomat who could not be identified under briefing rules said a rebel representative had refused to take part in talks unless Gadhafi’s ouster was a pre-condition.
The Addis Ababa meeting was convened partly to allow the African Union to take the lead in settling the Libyan crisis. A western diplomat deeply involved in the negotiations privately lamented what he called “Africa’s tragic absence at the table” in recent negotiations in Paris and elsewhere.
The African Union’s conflicted stance on Libya was illustrated this month when the continental body avoided endorsing a no-fly zone, even as all three African members of the U.N. Security Council voted for it.
AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping opened Friday’s session with a call for moving from the military to the political track. He called for urgent talks between the Gadhafi government and rebels aimed at establishing a democratic government.
He said the solution lies in a dialogue on political reforms that would eliminate the causes of conflict that are tearing the country apart.
Ping called on the international community to settle its differences and work together to reach a consensus on a lasting solution to Libya’s turmoil. He said the first step, however, is a cease-fire.
He said urgent African action must involve an immediate cessation of hostilities, allowing humanitarian agencies to help civilians in desperate need, protecting foreign nationals, and attacking the root causes of the crisis.
The African Union earlier appointed a panel comprising five heads of states and Chairman Ping to try to mediate between the Gadhafi government and the rebels. The panel had planned to visit Tripoli and Benghazi early in the week, but was denied permission after the no-fly zone was imposed and air strikes began.
The panel is still active, however, and AU diplomats say the influence of its members could be useful in negotiations with the mercurial Mr. Gadhafi.