Peter Fabricius

Foreign Editor

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has asked President Jacob Zuma to provide DNA samples from South African photographer Anton Hammerl to help the Libyan authorities find his body.

Zuma had promised Hammerl’s family that he would ask Gaddafi for help in locating Hammerl’s remains when he met Gaddafi in Tripoli yesterday to try to end the civil war, sources said.

Hammerl was shot by Libyan government forces near Brega, a town in the east of the country, on April 5 and left for dead in the desert, according to other journalists who were travelling with him.

Zuma said after the meeting yesterday that Gaddafi was ready for a truce to stop the fighting.

“He is ready to sign the roadmap,” Zuma said, referring to the AU proposal for a ceasefire – including an end to Nato aerial bombardments – and negotiations between Gaddafi and his rebel enemies for political reforms to address the underlying causes of the conflict.

Zuma said Gaddafi had insisted that “all Libyans be given a chance to talk among themselves” to determine the country’s future.

But the AU roadmap does not require Gaddafi step down as a precondition for negotiations, which the rebels have demanded.

There had been some speculation that Zuma would suggest to Gaddafi that he should step down. But he did not say after the meeting that Gaddafi was ready to surrender power and so in Benghazi rebel Foreign Minister Fathi Baja rejected the AU plan.

“We refuse completely, we don’t consider it a political initiative, it is only some stuff that Gaddafi wants to announce to stay in power,” he said.

Baja said he believed Zuma was in Tripoli to negotiate an exit strategy for Gaddafi, though Zuma’s office denied that.

Baja also said the rebels would launch an offensive against Gaddafi soon.

For decades Gaddafi has identified Libya as an African as much as an Arab nation.

He disbursed millions of dollars in aid to African nations and built himself up as a leader of the continent.

Zuma was greeted with all the requisite fanfare.

Dozens of Gaddafi supporters, bused in to welcome Zuma’s arival, waved green Libyan flags and chanted slogans denouncing the Nato bombing campaign against Libyan government targets.

Nato temporarily lifted its no-fly zone over Libya to allow the SA Air Force aircraft to land at the main military air base close to Tripoli.

In Rome yesterday, an indication that Gaddafi’s regime is losing support came from eight top Libyan army officers, including five generals, who defected from Gaddafi’s military. They appealed to their fellow officers to join the revolt.

Several senior officials, including at least three cabinet ministers, have abandoned Gaddafi during the uprising that began in February.

Even so, he clings tenaciously to power and the military units still loyal to him are far superior to the forces available to the rebels.

One of the officers, General Melud Massoud Halasa, estimated that Gaddafi’s military forces were now “only 20 percent as effective” as they were before the revolt broke out in mid-February and that “not more than 10” generals remained loyal to Gaddafi.

General On Ali On read an appeal to fellow army officers and top police and security officials “in the name of the martyrs who have fallen in the defence of freedom to have the courage” to abandon the regime.

The general, wearing street clothes like his fellow defectors, denounced “genocide” and “violence against women in various Libyan cities”.

An anti-government activist based in Tripoli said dozens of residents had angrily chanted against Gaddafi’s rule in a rare demonstration in the Libyan capital yesterday.

The activist sent reporters a YouTube video showing the men chanting: “There is only one God and Muammar (Gaddafi) is his enemy.”

The timing and authenticity of the video could not be independently confirmed.

The Zuma visit came during relentless Nato bombing runs on Tripoli and other parts of the country, aimed at weakening Gaddafi’s military and giving the outgunned rebels a chance in their battle against the long-time ruler.

Though relations between Gaddafi and the AU have been strained, Zuma has joined other African leaders in accusing Nato of overstepping its UN mandate to protect Libyan civilians and calling for an end to the air strikes.

Zuma’s meeting with Gaddafi at his Bab al-Aziziyah compound was attended by only two other people. – Sapa-AP