ADDIS ABABA: The African Union will not explicitly recognize Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC), diplomats said on Friday, in a setback for Libyan rebels who have already been recognized by more than 40 countries as the legitimate government.
The AU's snub highlights the influence ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had on the AU, given that he was one of the continental group's main bankrollers and had provided lavish sums to several African leaders.
Instead, the AU called in a communique for an inclusive transitional government in the North African state that would involve officials from Gaddafi's side.
"The AU peace and security council is weighted with countries who have backed Gaddafi in the past or owe him favors. They will not recognize the NTC," one senior Western diplomat with knowledge of negotiations in a closed-door heads of state emergency Peace and Security Council summit.
Officials at the talks said the 15-member council was split almost in half between countries that have recognized the NTC and countries who have not. The council takes in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Libya, Namibia, South Africa, Djibouti, Rwanda, Burundi, Chad Benin, Ivory Coast, Mali and Mauritania.
Earlier, a senior South African government source said the AU could recognise the rebels, although he said the group may want some from Gaddafi's side involved in a transition.
Only three heads of state attended the emergency summit. Two of them, Uganda's Yoweri Museveni and South Africa's Jacob Zuma, have been vocal supporters of Gaddafi, which may have influenced the group's decision.
Zimbabwe is also one of the few states strongly in Gaddafi's camp and the country is seen as a possible asylum destination for him.
The AU has proposed a road map for a change in leadership in Libya that has been mostly overlooked by Western powers – a rebuff analysts said has angered many African states with long ties to Gaddafi.
The African Union was founded at a summit in Gaddafi's hometown on Sept. 9, 1999. The state-owned Afriqiyah Airways marks that date by painting the motif "9.9.99" on the tail of each of its jets.
Zuma spearheaded an AU mediation effort in Libya but two personal visits by the South African leader this year failed to produce meaningful results. The Arab League and Egypt recently recognised Libya's rebels after a senior South African government source indicated the 54-member group could recognise the Libyan rebels.