Moammar Kadafi has no intention of leaving Libya, South African President Jacob Zuma’s office said Tuesday after Zuma met with the Libyan leader in Tripoli.
During their session together on Monday, Kadafi stressed “that he was not prepared to leave his country, despite the difficulties,” Zuma’s office said in a statement. The South African leader also said that Kadafi’s “personal safety … is of concern” as NATO-led bombings of Tripoli continue.
Kadafi expressed his anger at the NATO bombings, said Zuma, who was taken on a tour of the bomb damage.
The much-anticipated meeting between the two presidents, which did not appear to move the Libyan government and rebels closer to a cease-fire, came as the Kadafi regime suffered a new blow with the defections of eight senior military officers.
Zuma on Monday presented Kadafi with a peace initiative crafted by African leaders that calls for an end to hostilities in Libya, but it does not include Kadafi’s departure from power. The South African president, who met with Kadafi in the leader’s heavily fortified Bab Azizia compound in Tripoli, later told reporters Kadafi appeared ready to “implement the road map,” as the plan is known.
Officials did not reveal any exit strategy for Kadafi, who has rejected demands from rebels and allied governments that he leave office.
Kadafi’s determination to remain in power — and opponents’ insistence that he go — have proved an unmovable barrier, thwarting all efforts to end the violence that has ravaged this North African nation for more than three months. Expectations that Zuma’s visit would yield a breakthrough appeared dashed.
After meeting with Kadafi, the South African president on Monday reiterated his support for the peace plan presented by the African Union, a regional alliance, that would lead to a cease-fire and peace negotiations. The Kadafi regime has backed the proposal.
But rebels and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have already rejected the plan, since it would allow Kadafi to remain in power during negotiations.
The impasse raises the specter of escalated airstrikes from NATO, which has warned in recent days of a renewed onslaught with attack helicopters and 2,000-pound, bunker-busting bombs aimed at Kadafi’s compound, among other targets.
Earlier Monday, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen declared in a speech in Bulgaria that Kadafi’s “reign of terror is coming to an end,” saying the Libyan leader is increasingly isolated.
“Even those closest to him are departing, defecting or deserting,” Rasmussen said.
Eight military officers — five generals, two colonels and a major — announced Monday that they had defected from the regime’s forces and planned to join in the revolt based in the eastern city of Benghazi.
The military defectors joined a roster of former Kadafi officials, including former Cabinet officers, diplomats and members of the military, who have abandoned the government. Rebels say the defections have deeply bruised the regime’s morale.
One of the defecting officers, Gen. Melud Massoud Halasa, estimated that Kadafi’s military forces were now “only 20% as effective” as before the revolt, the Associated Press reported. At a news conference in Rome, Halasa, wearing civilian clothes like his fellow defectors, said that “not more than 10" generals remain loyal to Kadafi. The former officers indicated the regime was ready to fall.
Abdel Rahman Shalgam, a representative of the Libyan rebel forces in Benghazi and a former foreign minister in Kadafi’s government, told reporters the defectors were among about 120 officers and soldiers who had recently deserted the Libyan military. All 120 were no longer in Libya, said a spokesman for the Italian Foreign Ministry, which organized the news conference.
The NATO-led bombing campaign began in March after the United Nations Security Council authorized the use of force to protect Libyan civilians from attacks by regime forces. The Libyan government has accused NATO of using the U.N. mandate as an pretext to oust Kadafi.
During his time at Kadafi’s compound, the Libyan state news agency Jana reported, Zuma also visited the site of the house where, the government says, a NATO airstrike killed Kadafi’s youngest son, Seif Arab Kadafi, and three of the leader’s grandchildren.
Zuma’s visit was much anticipated at a time when NATO is threatening to intensify airstrikes, and a negotiated settlement of the conflict seems ever more remote. Rebels control much of eastern Libya, while Kadafi’s forces maintain power in most of the west, including Tripoli — the capital and largest population center.
Late Monday, Libyan state television reported that NATO airstrikes had killed 13 people west of the rebel-held city of Misurata, which is about 120 miles east of Tripoli. NATO had no immediate comment.
Times staff writer Janet Stobart in London contributed to this report.