PARIS (AFP) – France's NATO allies are not pulling their weight in Libya and their forces should do more to help destroy Moamer Kadhafi's heavy weaponry, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Tuesday.
"NATO must fully play its role, and it is not doing so sufficiently," the minister told France Info radio, adding that France would bring the matter up with EU ministers on Tuesday and with NATO in Berlin on Thursday.
|AFP - Rebel fighters ride on the back of a pickup truck with a mounted gun near the western gate of Ajdabiya.|
France which, with Britain and the United States, led the drive for air strikes against Kadhafi's forces, was sceptical about handing political control of the operation to the NATO Western alliance.
Now, Juppe said, it feels that the full coalition is not taking a robust enough attitude in pushing forward with the bombardment of Libyan government forces besieging rebel-held cities.
The comments came after Libyan rebels rejected an African Union initiative for a truce accepted by Kadhafi, and said the only solution was the strongman's ouster, an idea his son called "ridiculous."
The African Union on Tuesday urged the rebels to "cooperate fully".
"Due to a political demand set as a pre-condition by the Transitional National Council (TNC) to launching urgent talks on the implementation of a truce, it was not possible at this stage to reach an agreement on the key issue of a cessation of hostilities," said a statement on Monday's visit to Libya of an AU delegation that included heads of state.
The delegation "makes an urgent call on the TNC to fully cooperate, for the sake of Libya's higher interests, and assist in the quest for and implementation of a fair and lasting political solution," the statement said.
NATO chiefs warned that any deal must be "credible and verifiable," and as alliance warplanes were again in action against heavy Kadhafi weaponry pounding Ajdabiya and Misrata.
The delegation of leaders mandated by the AU to stop the fighting in Libya are in the Algerian capital for two days of talks with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, APS news agency reported.
"We are working to find a solution to this complex question and we are continuing our efforts to get out of this crisis," Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was quoted as saying on arrival.
He was accompanied by Congo's President Denis Sassou Nguesso, AU Commission chairman Jean Ping and Ugandan Foreign Minister Henry Oryem Okello, APS said.
Kadhafi has accepted a proposed "roadmap" calling for an immediate ceasefire, boosted humanitarian aid and dialogue between the two sides, but the insurgents have rejected the plan, saying Kadhafi must go immediately.
Kadhafi's son Seif al-Islam admitted that it was time for "new blood" in Libya, but called talk of his father stepping down "ridiculous."
"The Libyan Guide (Kadhafi) does not want to control everything. He is at an advanced age. We would like to bring a new elite of young people onto the scene to lead the country and direct local affairs," he told France's BFM TV.
"We need new blood -- that is what we want for the future -- but talk of the Guide leaving is truly ridiculous," he added.
In Benghazi, rebel leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil said the African initiative did not go far enough.
"From the first day the demand of our people has been the ouster of Kadhafi and the fall of his regime," he said.
"Kadhafi and his sons must leave immediately if they want to be safe... Any initiative that does not include the people's demand, the popular demand, essential demand, we cannot possibly recognise."
NATO, meanwhile, said it struck more loyalist targets around Ajdabiya and the besieged port of Misrata on Sunday and Monday, destroying 11 Kadhafi regime tanks and five military vehicles.
The regime warned that any foreign intervention under the pretext of bringing aid into Misrata would be met by "staunch armed resistance," the official JANA news agency quoted the foreign ministry as saying.
Diplomats in Brussels said on Friday that the EU was gearing up to deploy military assets for a humanitarian mission to evacuate wounded from Misrata and deliver food, water and medicine to the city.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that warplanes will keep pounding Libyan forces as long as civilians are at risk.
"I would also like to stress that the guiding principle for us will be how to implement the UN Security Council resolution fully, that is to protect the civilians against any attack," he said.
Shamsiddin Abdulmolah, a spokesman for the rebels' Transitional National Council, welcomed the African Union efforts, but demanded Kadhafi's overthrow.
The people must be allowed to go into the streets to express their opinion and the soldiers must return to their barracks," he told AFP.
"If people are free to come out and demonstrate in Tripoli, then that's it. I imagine all of Libya will be liberated within moments."
He also demanded the release of hundreds of people missing since the outbreak of the popular uprising and believed to be held by Kadhafi's forces.
South African President Jacob Zuma said earlier that Tripoli had accepted the African Union plan for a ceasefire.
"We also in this communique are making a call on NATO to cease the bombings to allow and to give a ceasefire a chance," he said.
The rebels, however, doubted Kadhafi would adhere to a truce.
"The world has seen these offers of ceasefires before and within 15 minutes (Kadhafi) starts shooting again," Abdulmolah said.
The rebels have said they would negotiate a political transition to democracy with certain senior regime figures, but only on the condition that Kadhafi and his sons leave Libya.
Meanwhile, Libya's former foreign minister Mussa Kussa, who is in Britain after defecting from Moamer Kadhafi's regime, told the BBC Monday that the restive nation could become a "new Somalia" if civil war broke out.