SA's ambassador to Libya Mohammed Dangor and the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Marius Fransman, at a briefing on protests in Libya.

Libya is “a state turning upon itself” and heading for civil war, South Africa’s ambassador to the country, Mohammed Dangor, says.

“Libya has essentially been split into two… there are people loyal to both sides. This is moving towards civil war - that’s the real danger,” Dangor said yesterday.

South Africa and the African Union needed to try to broker peace in the region, he said.

“To push one side or the another is not going to facilitate peace.”

Dangor, who left Tripoli for security reasons and arrived in South Africa on Monday, said the South African embassy in Tripoli had been closed, but “not shut down”.

He said it was wrong to portray what was happening in Libya as similar to what occurred in Tunisia and in Egypt, where the people’s revolts had been ignited by hunger and unemployment and where the armed forces had stood aside.

In Libya it was “a power struggle”.

Dangor described a situation in which there were “generals and tanks on both sides”, cities were captured and then retaken, “almost as if a medieval war is taking place”.

Gaddafi had “a heavy-handed influence” in the situation.

Dangor said the Libyan leader had been “technically correct” when he told the BBC in an interview that he was not the president, as legally he was not head of state and his position was honorary.

“In Libya there is no president, there’s no monarch and no emir,” Dangor said.

Referring to reports that African mercenaries were assisting “one or other side”, Dangor warned of the potential for xenophobic violence.

“Libya is a multicultural, multi-ethnic society. There are black people, white people… Ugandan, Kenyan and Nigerian expatriate workers are living in real fear that the Libyan population will turn xenophobic and attack them. It is important not to turn this into a racial thing.”

Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Marius Fransman said South Africa stood by the “extraordinarily strong” UN Security Council resolution for which it had voted at the weekend. It imposes an arms embargo, freezes the assets of Gaddafi, his family and cohorts, and asks the International Criminal Court to investigate events in Libya.

While South Africa respected the views of US President Barack Obama and other countries’ leaders in calling for Gaddafi to go, it would not go beyond implementing what had been agreed to in the resolution.

“We remain deeply concerned at the deteriorating situation in Libya, which has resulted in untold atrocities and countless losses of civilian lives,” he said.

Fransman was careful not to condemn Gaddafi by name. He referred to the ANC a question about whether this was because the ruling party owed the Libyan leader “some debt”, while insisting that the South African government was “not being affected by relations that parties might necessarily have with individuals”.

Asked whether either side in the conflict held the higher ground, in terms of the morality of its cause or in military strength, Fransman said: “Violence is violence. We are not going to get into the relativity of violence. We are saying that violence in whatever form currently in Libya needs to be denounced.”

After persistent questioning, Fransman conceded that South Africa’s condemnation of the carnage included Gaddafi.

“We are saying that there is condemnation of any action by anyone, including... by the Libyan authorities and... by extension, for example, if you are asking a direct question, condemnation of anyone from whatever side, including… Gaddafi.”

The situation in Libya was “volatile”. The South African government would continue to monitor it, while the African Union would be sending in a team to analyse the situation, Fransman said.

“We are looking at the sustainability of the resolve on this matter and therefore we believe that our position currently is probably the most appropriate to find a long-term solution.” - Political Bureau