Libyan Rebels Reject AU Cease-Fire Plan

In a meeting with an African Union delegation in Benghazi, Libyan rebels rejected a plan that would call for a cease-fire. Leader Moammar Gadhafi had accepted the AU "roadmap" but the rebels contend no plan is acceptable unless it includes Gadhafi's departure.

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Today in eastern Libya, anti-government rebels rejected a cease-fire proposal. It came from the African Union. Rebel leaders said any proposal that does not include the departure of Moammar Gadhafi will, in their words, not meet the aspirations of the Libyan people.

NPR's Peter Kenyon has our story from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

PETER KENYON: The African Union's diplomatic foray had enjoyed a warm welcome from Gadhafi and his supporters in Tripoli. Here in Benghazi, the political climate was distinctly chillier.

Unidentified Group: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: A large and persistent crowd gathered well before the delegation's arrival at a local hotel, and their shouts for Gadhafi to leave didn't fade away until the African leaders had departed several hours later.

Many here feel that the African Union, long the recipient of Gadhafi's largesse, may not be a neutral mediator in this dispute.

French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy, in Benghazi to support the rebels, suggested that these African envoys had fallen short of the standards set by such iconic African leaders as South Africa's Nelson Mandela and Patrice Lumumba of the Republic of Congo.

BERNARD HENRI: I'm sad to see the images I saw yesterday of the African delegation embracing Gadhafi. I remember the Africa of Lumumba, of Mandela, they would not have acted this way.

KENYON: The proposal carried to Benghazi by the African Union includes an immediate cease-fire, a national dialogue to resolve the crisis and the implementation of political reforms. Not long ago, that might have seemed like tremendous progress for Libyans exhausted by 42 years of Gadhafi's rule. But today, the head of the rebels' Transitional National Council didn't hesitate to dismiss it as outdated and insufficient.

Mustafa Abdul Jalil cited several problems, the most severe being the African Union's apparent endorsement of Gadhafi's regime as a legitimate entity to negotiate with.

MUSTAFA ABDUL JALIL: (Through translator) Our demand from the start has been that Gadhafi, his sons and his regime leave us. Therefore, any request that does not include this we will not accept. Moammar Gadhafi and his sons should leave immediately if he wants to save his life.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

KENYON: The rebels' reaction was no surprise to some of the African leaders. Malian president, Amadou Toumani Toure, in a brief interview before the meeting began, said although there was no expectation of an immediate agreement, it was important to try to improve the atmosphere between the two sides.

AMADOU TOUMANI TOURE: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: When there is a conflict in a negotiation, it takes time, he said. You need patience, and this is a start. We must reduce the hatred.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today said Washington considers it nonnegotiable that Gadhafi's forces must pull back and that basic services be restored to cities under attack. She also repeated the administration's view that Gadhafi should cede power.

The rebels' defiance comes despite the fact that their disorganized, lightly armed force has been repeatedly pushed back, despite NATO airstrikes destroying some of Colonel Gadhafi's military assets. As if to remind the world that neither he nor his army has gone anywhere, Gadhafi's forces unleashed a fresh assault on the western city of Misrata today. Human Rights Watch says it has documented more than 250 deaths in Misrata in the past two months.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Benghazi.

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