African Union Peace Plan Rules Gadhafi Out of Talks


African leaders agreed Friday on a peace plan that rules Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi out of talks with rebels to end the four-month conflict in his country, a top official said.

The plan, which has to be presented to the Libyan regime and rebels, says "Gadhafi must not participate in negotiations", the head of the African Union peace council, Ramtane Lamamra, told Agence France Presse.

The document was finalized in hours of talks among leaders at the African Union summit that started on Thursday and stretched into Friday afternoon.

"It has been a big success. It has been long but good -- everybody was able to give his opinion," Lamamra said of the talks. He did not comment further on the plan, which was expected to be released to media later Friday.

The roadmap builds on one drawn up in March by African leaders mediating in the conflict from Congo-Brazzaville, Uganda, Mali, Mauritania and South Africa. This plan was rejected by the rebels who demanded Gadhafi must first step down.

The new version also envisages a ceasefire, humanitarian aid, a transition period, reforms towards democracy and elections.

It says that the transition must be "consensual and inclusive", which one diplomat said on condition of anonymity meant all parties, including Gadhafi, would have to agree, in a potential hurdle to the peace effort.

Libyan rebel representatives are special guests to the sidelines of the summit outside the Equatorial Guinea capital Malabo, where members of the embattled regime are also present.

The rebel delegation insisted Thursday that Gadhafi must quit after more than 40 years in power and also backed an International Criminal Court arrest warrant for him.

The rebel demands could be part of talks, African Union Commission spokesman Noureddine Mezni told AFP.

"They can bring all these issues to the negotiating table. One day they have to stop the war and to start negotiations -- already people are in an extremely bad shape, they are suffering a lot," he said.

"He must leave," National Transitional Council representative Mansour Safy al-Nasr told journalists.

Asked if he thought the conflict would be resolved through political or military means, he said: "We are ready for anything."

The rebels were also prepared to end hostilities if Gadhafi quit, he said.

"If we see that Gadhafi withdraws, we are ready to stop and negotiate with our brothers who are around Gadhafi," he said.

The rebel leadership expect "a clear stance" from the African Union on whether it supports or condemns Gadhafi, senior Libyan rebel leader Mahmoud Jibril said Thursday.

The ICC issued warrants for the Libyan leader, his son Seif al-Islam and the Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi for atrocities in the crackdown imposed on an uprising that erupted after rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt toppled their long-time leaders early this year.

"These arrest warrants reflect the international conviction that massacres did take place," Jibril told journalists Thursday. "I urge the African Union to take a clear stance."

The 53-nation African Union is under pressure to find a solution to the conflict after criticizing the U.N.-mandated NATO-led air strikes against Gadhafi's forces and insisting on "African solutions" to the continent's problems.

The summit opened Thursday with the union critical of France's air-drop of weapons to the rebels to defend themselves, warning that the guns could fall into the hands of al-Qaida militants active in north Africa.

Libya's rebel council thanked France for the supplies, saying they helped to save lives, but Russia and other nations accuse Paris of going beyond U.N. authorization.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Friday France had informed members of the U.N. Security Council and NATO about the arms drop and it only involved defensive weapons meant to protect civilians, making it in line with existing U.N. resolutions on Libya.