But new questions emerged over how long Gaddafi could hold on after a senior United Nations aid official said shortages of food and medicine in areas of Libya controlled by Gaddafi amounted to a “time bomb.”
Within hours of Zuma’s departure from Tripoli late on Monday, Libyan television reported that NATO aircraft had resumed attacks, striking what it called civilian and military sites in Tripoli and Tajoura, just east of the capital.
Zuma was in Tripoli to try to revive an African “roadmap” for ending the conflict, which started in February with an uprising against Gaddafi and has since turned into a war with thousands of people killed.
The talks produced no breakthrough, with Gaddafi’s refusal to quit — a condition the rebels and NATO have set as a pre-condition for any ceasefire — still the sticking point.
“Col. Gaddafi called for an end to the bombings to enable a Libyan dialogue,” Zuma’s office said in a statement. “He emphasised that he was not prepared to leave his country, despite the difficulties.”
Zuma also said Gaddafi’s personal safety “is a concern” — a reference to NATO strikes which have repeatedly hit the Libyan leader’s Bab al-Aziziyah compound and other locations used by the Libyan leader and his family.
Speaking in the main rebel stronghold of Benghazi where he was opening a consulate, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said he had pledged an aid package for the rebels worth hundreds of millions of euros.
“I think the Gaddafi regime is over and I firmly believe that it is over for a simple reason: we are talking about a person whose closest friends are defecting. He lost his legitimacy in Libya,” Frattini said.
Now in its fourth month, Libya’s conflict is deadlocked on the ground, with anti-Gaddafi rebels unable to break out of their strongholds and advance towards Tripoli, where Gaddafi appears to be firmly entrenched.
Rebels control the east of Libya around the city of Benghazi, Libya’s third-biggest city Misrata, and a mountain range stretching from the town of Zintan, 150 km (95 miles) south of Tripoli, towards the border with Tunisia.
Western powers have said they expect Gaddafi will be forced out by a process of attrition as air strikes, defections from his entourage and shortages take their toll.
Panos Moumtzis, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Libya, told Reuters in Tripoli that some food stocks in areas under Gaddafi’s control were likely to last only weeks.
“I don’t think there’s any famine, malnutrition. But the longer the conflict lasts the more the food stocks supplies are going to be depleted, and it’s a matter of weeks before the country reaches a critical situation,” Moumtzis said in an interview.
“The food and the medical supplies is a little bit like a time bomb. At the moment it’s under control and it’s ok. But if this goes on for quite some time, this will become a major issue,” he said.
Gaddafi says his forces are fighting armed criminal gangs and al Qaeda militants, and has described the NATO intervention as an act of colonial aggression aimed at grabbing Libya’s plentiful oil reserves. Reuters