The South African President Jacob Zuma arrived in Tripoli yesterday for further talks with Colonel Gaddafi, in a fresh attempt to end the fighting in Libya.
And as eight army officers became the latest to rebel against the leadership, President Zuma confirmed that his meeting with the Libyan ruler had led him to believe that Col Gaddafi is ready for a truce to stop the fighting.
This is all the more surprising, given that President Zuma's options for a peace deal seemed to be damaged last week when G8 leaders insisted that Col Gaddafi must resign.
The President explained that Col Gaddafi is set to accept an African Union initiative for a ceasefire to stop all hostilities, including NATO air strikes – terms which he rejected last month. President Zuma said: "He is ready to implement the road map," adding that Col Gaddafi insisted that "all Libyans be given a chance to talk among themselves". But rebels quickly rejected the offer. In Rome, the eight officers, including five generals, appeared at an Italian government-arranged news conference, saying they were part of a group of up to 120 military personnel who had defected in recent days.
Pressure has been mounting on the Libyan leader after Nato stepped up its bombing campaign and suggested that a "small ground force" might be deployed. Pictures broadcast yesterday by Al Jazeera appeared to show foreign fighters assisting rebels on the ground near the besieged city of Misrata.
It was not clear the nationality of the fighters, but Western politicians have insisted they will not deploy ground troops in support of the air strikes.
Mr Zuma was welcomed by another stage-managed show, with children chanting: "We want Gaddafi" in English. And later, Col Gaddafi was shown thrusting his fist in the air as he waved farewell to Zuma at the airport.
The Nato coalition had gambled that its more aggressive approach will oust Col Gaddafi before broader support for military action collapses.
Nato has been accused of "mission creep" as the original UN mandate was to "protect civilians" and not to kill or remove the Libyan leader.
The military intervention has been escalating for the past week, with Britain saying it will add "bunker-busting" bombs to its arsenal.
The possible introduction of Enhanced Paveway III "bunker-busting" bombs, which are capable of penetrating reinforced buildings, appeared to be aimed at frightening the regime into to suing for peace.
"We are not trying to physically target individuals in Gaddafi's inner circle on whom he relies," the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, said yesterday. "But we are certainly sending them increasingly loud messages."Reuse content