Libyan generals defect; South African leader meets with Gadhafi
By the CNN Wire Staff
Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- Eight generals from embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's army have defected and are now in Italy, the Italian Foreign Ministry told CNN on Wednesday.
No further information was immediately available about the defections, and the identities of the generals were not known.
The news came on the same day that South African President Jacob Zuma met with Gadhafi to push for a cease-fire between Gadhafi's forces and rebel fighters, officials said.
Zuma arrived in Tripoli Monday afternoon. It is his second visit to Libya's capital aimed at mediating an end to the fighting that began when Gadhafi dug in his heels against popular efforts to bring about an end to his 42-year-rule.
A Libyan government official said the two leaders met Monday, with Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmudi also attending the meeting.
Libyan Prime Minster Baghadadi greeted the South African leader at Tripoli's Mitiga International Airport before a government car took him to Gadhafi's besieged compound. At the airport, dozens of Gadhafi supporters carried posters that said, "May the leader be victorious" and "Thanks for great Africa."
Unlike many other world leaders, Zuma, his African National Congress party and the African Union -- which he will represent on his trip, and which Gadhafi once led -- have not called for the longtime Libyan leader to step down. In fact, it has criticized the NATO airstrikes targeting government forces.
The NATO-led bombing campaign began in March after the U.N. Security Council authorized the use of any means necessary -- with the exception of occupying Libyan land -- to protect civilians from attacks by Gadhafi's forces.
Noureddine Mezni, an African Union spokesman, said Zuma will push for a cease-fire and peace talks between the warring parties. The African Union has helped mediate such talks before, including ones in Kenya and Zimbabwe that left the ruling powers still in control.
It was not clear whether Zuma would use the opportunity to press Gadhafi for information on the whereabouts of South African freelance photographer Anton Hammerl's body. Hammerl has been missing in Libya since April and is believed dead.
South Africa says it got assurances from Libya that the journalist was alive. But a Libyan government spokesman said his whereabouts are unknown.
"We never had him with us at any stage," spokesman Musa Ibrahim has said.
Hammerl's family has pressed Zuma to bring up the issue during the meeting, Zuma's office said. The South African leader has said he will do what he can to assist but did not outright agree to take up the issue with Gadhafi, his office said.
Gadhafi has been seen very rarely in recent weeks. NATO has stepped up attacks against the sprawling Gadhafi compound known as Bab el-Azizia, forcing the Libyan leader to move secretly between locations.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Monday that Gadhafi's "reign of terror is coming to an end."
"He is increasingly isolated at home and abroad," Rasmussen said during a speech in Bulgaria. "Even those closest to him are departing, defecting or deserting."
Rasmussen also said NATO has made "significant progress" in its Libya operation.
In a statement released Monday, NATO said it has conducted 3,385 strike sorties in Libya since March.
"We have seriously degraded Gadhafi's ability to kill his own people," Rasmussen said in his speech. "We have prevented more massacres in Misrata and elsewhere across the country, and we are saving lives every day."
On Sunday, Libyan opposition forces continued to fend off attacks near the rebel-held port city of Misrata.
But rebel leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil said over the weekend that the opposition movement is running out of money even as it has achieved key victories militarily and diplomatically.
Jalil, the chairman of the Benghazi-based National Transitional Council, did not suggest in an exclusive CNN interview that the rebels would pull back in their fight against Gadhafi's government. But he pleaded for more resources so that the effort -- which is being backed by many Western nations -- could be successful.
"We are in desperate need of money," said Jalil, a former justice minister under Gadhafi. "We really need money. This is clear. We are going through a financial crisis."
The opposition movement's stature has been bolstered by the sale of a shipment of oil to China for $160 million, Jalil told CNN. Still, he said the financial situation remains precarious for now -- especially with rebels' limited access to more oil.
"People are patient and have been able to manage their lives at minimal living standards," he said. "The problem is the prices have gone up."
He reiterated that the transitional council will "agree to any cease-fire that leads to removing Moammar Gadhafi. Anything short of that is unacceptable."
In a speech in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, the United Nations' top human rights official noted "the brutality and magnitude of measures" taken by the Libyan government.
The government's actions have been "shocking," United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said, crticizing the "outright disregard for basic human rights."
Libya has been in the throes of a civil war for months, since Gadhafi's forces began battling rebels emboldened by anti-government protests that swept the Arab world this year.
CNN's Sara Sidner, Ben Wedeman, Nkepile Mabuse, Amir Ahmed, Raja Razek and Nima Elbagir contributed to this report.