South Africa trip increases Libya differences

By Alex Stevenson

David Cameron and South African president Jacob Zuma have openly disagreed over military intervention in Libya, increasing a divide between western and African states.

The prime minister had hoped his visit would focus on improving trade links between Britain and the two countries, but the joint press conference in Pretoria was overshadowed by both the phone-hacking scandal and Muammar Gaddafi's future.

"It is no secret we have disagreed on some aspects of how to respond to violence in Libya," Mr Cameron conceded.

"But we are agreed on the immediate imperative, that all sides must take every effort to minimise the loss of civilian life."

Mr Zuma openly voiced the concerns of African Union nations about the lack of negotiations with Muammar Gaddafi.

He said the African Union (AU) had laid out a clear roadmap which would end the conflict through negotiation. Western states, including Britain, are insisting that debate about Libya's future only take place after Colonel Gaddafi has stepped down.

"You need to negotiate on how must Gaddafi go, where must he go," Mr Zuma insisted.

"These issues must be put on the table and the Libyan people must decide. That's where the differences are.

"If he goes now, you have not even discussed and agreed on the conditions. Where must he go? What will happen to him at the end? That must be a product of negotiations."

Rather than moving on Mr Cameron then made a strong argument in favour of the west's military actions as he raised the ongoing "killing" and "maiming" of Libyan citizens.

He said "Arab countries like the Qataris" were stepping in to assist militarily as a result, before adding: "The president and I have spoken very frankly about this issue.

"The difference is the president sees that [the removal of Gaddafi] as the outcome of a political process, whereas I believe for a political process to work that has to be the starting point."

Mr Zuma responded by acknowledging that a political process could not take place while violence was ongoing.

He said he wanted to see a peace process involving all the global players as well as both sides in Libya conducted after the fighting had died down.

The South African president said AU countries wanted to see a "ceasefire that could exist and be respected, while allowing the debate to happen including the future of Gaddafi".

The situation on the ground in Libya appears to have shifted somewhat in recent days in favour of the rebel forces, who are making slow progress against Col Gaddafi's forces. They have entered the town of Brega, a key oil town on the road to Benghazi.

Ministry of Defence spokesperson Major-General Nick Pope said: "British forces continue to make a significant contribution to the Nato-led Operation Unified Protector over Libya, striking Colonel Gaddafi's troops, wherever they posed a threat to the civilian population, across the breadth of the country."