SA lawyers in secret Gaddafi exit plan
A South African law firm is involved in a secret plan to defend Colonel Muammar Gaddafi if he is tried by the International Criminal Court as part of an "exit strategy" for the Libyan strongman aimed at ending the country's conflict.
President Jacob Zuma met Gaddafi in Tripoli Monday for peace talks under the auspices of the African Union, later announcing that Gaddafi had repeated his readiness to declare a "truce" with rebels who have been fighting to oust him since February.
The Presidency has repeatedly denied that Zuma's mission is to negotiate an exit strategy for Gaddafi and his acolytes.
But The Times has learned that top Libyan officials entered into a "mandate agreement" with South African law firm Langa Attorneys three weeks ago.
In terms of the agreement, the firm will assist Gaddafi in his defence against possible charges of crimes against humanity and other allegations.
Senior partner Themba Langa was at the meeting with the Libyan officials. It is understood that the firm's mandate includes providing legal advice and services to Gaddafi and other Libyan leaders.
"The deal will include defending Libyan government officials in the event that they are hauled before the International Criminal Court [in The Hague] on charges of human rights abuses," a source close to the discussions said.
Langa was not available for comment, but The Times understands that his firm was asked to assemble a team of international law experts to put together Gaddafi's defence strategy if he quits.
South Africa and several other African countries have been mooted as havens for Gaddafi, who is battling a rebel offensive in the oil-rich east of Libya, as well as UN-sanctioned Nato air strikes.
Earlier yesterday, the Presidency referred The Times to a statement it released six days ago, in which it said Zuma was visiting Libya as a member of the AU committee charged with resolving the conflict in that country. Zuma wants a ceasefire so that more humanitarian aid can be sent to Libya and to make possible political reform, the Presidency said, adding that talk of an exit strategy for Gaddafi was "misleading".
After meeting Gaddafi yesterday, Zuma said the Libyan leader was ready for a truce to stop the fighting in his country, but he listed familiar conditions that have scuttled previous ceasefire efforts.
Zuma said Gaddafi was ready to accept an AU initiative for a cease-fire that would stop all hostilities, including Nato air strikes in support of rebel forces.
"He is ready to implement the [AU] road map," Zuma said.
Zuma said Gaddafi insists that "all Libyans be given a chance to talk among themselves" to determine the country's future.
Zuma did not say Gaddafi is ready to step down, which is the central demand of the rebels. He was speaking to reporters from the SABC and Libyan TV, which broadcast his remarks late last night.
Zuma met Gaddafi in the Bab al-Aziziya compound, where the Libyan leader has been staying since fighting between his forces and rebels broke out in February, Libyan state media reported. Zuma also visited the site of the house where Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Arab, and three grandsons were killed by a Nato air strike earlier this month.
Before the meeting, Zuma told the SABC that continuing Nato air raids were thwarting the AU's attempts to broker a peace deal.
It was not clear whether Zuma raised the issue of the killing by Libyan government forces of South African photographer Anton Hammerl two months ago. Tripoli is accused of repeatedly lying to South African diplomats by claiming that Hammerl was alive.
Zuma's first attempt to broker a ceasefire on behalf of the AU, in April, was rejected by the rebels because the plan did not include Gaddafi's departure. Western powers, including Britain and the US, backed the rebels' stance.
The Gaddafi regime has been accused of unleashing its military on civilians during the three-month-long uprising.
The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said earlier this month he would seek three arrest warrants in his investigation of crimes against humanity in Libya.
- Eight high-ranking Libyan army officers told journalists in Rome yesterday that they were part of a group of up to 120 military officials and soldiers who had defected from Gaddafi's side in recent days. - Additional reporting by Reuters, Sapa-AP,AFP, dpa