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AU seeks end to Libya unrest

African Union panel, due to visit Benghazi, appeals for "an immediate end to hostilities"African Union mediators on Libya have reiterated their appeal for "an immediate end to all hostilities" and proposed a transition period to adopt reforms as intense fighting continues across the country.

The committee, headed by Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, is expected to head to the opposition stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya later on Sunday.

The delegation also includes the leaders of Mali, Uganda, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A statement from the presidency said South African President Jacob Zuma said: "The committee has been granted permission by NATO to enter Libya and to meet in Tripoli with ... [Libyan leader Muammar] Gaddafi. The AU delegation will also meet with the Interim Transitional National Council in Benghazi on 10 and 11 April."

The committee said in a statement that it had decided to go along with a roadmap adopted in March, which calls for an end to hostilities, "diligent conveying of humanitarian aid" and "dialogue between the Libyan parties".

It also said it intended to propose "inclusive management" of a transition period aimed at adopting and setting up of "the political reforms needed to eliminate the causes of the present crisis."

Nabila Ramdani, a French journalist and Middle East expert, said the situation with regards to Libya had reached not only a military but also a political deadlock.

"It's quite worrying," she said. "Unfortunately, my view about the African Union is that it will appear as not being a credible group of people to be in a position to broker a deal on behalf of [Muammar] Gaddafi.

"They're a group of dictators themselves and they won't be taken very seriously given that they're from very brutal regimes which are in many ways far worse than the Gaddafi regime."

Ajdabiya shelled

Meanwhile, opposition fighters said forces loyal to Gaddafi had killed four rebels in a battle for control of the strategic east Libyan town of Ajdabiya.

"I saw the four this morning. Their throats were slit and they were all shot through the chest and dumped on the road. Their car was also riddled with bullets," Mohammed Saad, a rebel at a checkpoint on the eastern edge of Ajdabiya, told Reuters.

On Saturday, rebels fought off an assault by Gaddafi's forces on the besieged western city of Misurata, losing up to 30 men.

Mustafa Abdulrahman, a rebel spokesman, said Saturday's fighting centred on a road to Misurata port, while NATO carried out several attacks on forces loyal to the Libyan leader.

Abdulrahman praised what he called a positive change from NATO. Rebels have complained for days that NATO has been too slow to respond to government attacks.

NATO said armoured vehicles firing on civilians had been targeted in air strikes, and that its jets had also struck ammunition stockpiles being used to resupply forces involved in the shelling of Misurata and other population centres.

A rebel who identified himself as Abdelsalem told Reuters that government troops had attacked Misurata on three fronts.

"Medical workers and rebels told me that at least 30 rebel fighters were killed," he said.

Residents fleeing

Misurata, Libya's third largest city, has been under siege by Gaddafi's forces for weeks. Rebels say people are crammed five families to a house in the few safe districts to escape weeks of sniper, mortar and rocket fire.

There are severe shortages of food, water and medical supplies and hospitals are overflowing.

Residents used boats to flee to the eastern city of Benghazi on Saturday.

"There is not a word in the dictionary to describe this. 'Disaster' is not enough," Ali Spak, the captain of one of the ships, said.

"There is very bad destruction. This man [Gaddafi] is killing his own people. There's shelling everywhere, even on the people trying to leave. People need help,"  one man on the boat said.

Doctors said last week that 200 people had been killed in Misurata since fighting broke out there in late February.

The Red Cross on Saturday ferried emergency medical supplies and five staff for 300 people wounded in the city.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, the commander of the alliance's operations in Libya, accused Gaddafi's forces of using civilians as human shields, adding to similar charges made by other Western commanders.

"We have observed horrific examples of regime forces deliberately placing their weapons systems close to civilians, their homes and even their places of worship," Bouchard said in a statement.

"Troops have also been observed hiding behind women and children. This type of behaviour violates the principles of international law and will not be tolerated."

As his troops engaged rebels in new fighting, Gaddafi made his first television appearance in five days. He was last seen on April 4.

Gaddafi smiled and pumped his fists in the air as he received an ecstatic welcome at a school in Tripoli, where women ululated and pupils chanted anti-western slogans.

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