South African President Jacob Zuma Sunday warned NATO against using its military campaign in Libya for the "political assassination" of Moammar Gaddafi, at the start of talks on the war.
South Africa voted for the UN resolution for a no-fly zone over Libya, which NATO uses to justify its campaign, but in some of his sharpest language yet, Zuma warned the alliance against overstepping its mandate.
"The continuing bombing by NATO and its allies is a concern that has been raised by our committee and by the AU Assembly, because the intention of Resolution 1973 was to protect the Libyan people and facilitate the humanitarian effort," Zuma said, referring to an African Union peace mission on Libya.
"The intention was not to authorise a campaign for regime change or political assassination," he said in opening talks in Pretoria of the AU panel on Libya, according to a text of the speech provided to AFP.
"On the ground, there is a military stalemate which cannot and must not be allowed to drag on and on -- both because of its horrendous cost in civilian lives and the potential it has to destabilise the entire sub-region," he said.
"The people of Africa want to see an immediate end to the conflict in Libya and the beginning of the process towards a democratic dispensation there," he said.
Zuma urged both Gaddafi and the rebel's Transitional National Council (TNC) to make compromises to reach a deal.
"The solution in Libya has to be political and lies in the hands of the Libyan people. Our Libyan brothers and sisters -- those in authority and those in the TNC -- have to act boldly and show leadership," he said.
The meeting of the AU panel came after the Libya rebels said late on Saturday that they expected to receive a new offer from Gaddafi "very soon" through French and South African intermediaries.
Zuma met with Gaddafi in Tripoli on May 30 but was rebuffed in efforts to find a compromise.
Zuma was meeting with the leaders of Mauritania, Uganda and Mali as well as Congo-Brazzaville's foreign minister to find ways of pushing forward an AU "roadmap" for Libya.
The plan calls for a ceasefire and reforms "necessary for the elimination of the causes of the current crisis", but the rebels insist that Gaddafi end his grip on power before accepting any deal.
Gaddafi has long used the African Union as a vehicle to promote his own ambitions on the continent, building a lavish complex in his hometown of Sirte which he dreamed would one day become the base of a United States of Africa.
Libya held the AU's rotating chair in 2009, but so far Gaddafi has appeared largely unmoved by the group's efforts to resolve the crisis since the special panel was established in March.
During the talks in Pretoria, Zuma will brief the panel about his meeting with Gaddafi in Tripoli, his spokesman Zizi Kodwa told reporters.
Many African leaders have also criticised the NATO bombing, but Zuma has also had tough words for Gaddafi, accusing Tripoli of a "heinous violation of human rights against (Gaddafi's) own people".
Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who heads the AU panel, also told AFP on June 6 that Gaddafi "can no longer lead Libya," and that "his departure has become necessary".
The meeting includes Presidents Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, as well as Congo foreign minister Basile Ikouebe.
They are to prepare a report to deliver to a full summit of the African Union in Equatorial Guinea, which opens Thursday, Kodwa said.