Eight high-ranking Libyan army officers are among at least 120 officials and soldiers to leave Qaddafi’s side in recent days, according to a report Monday from Reuters.
In a news conference organized by the Italian government, five former generals, two former colonels and a former major talked about the “killing, genocide and violence against women” they witnessed while under Qaddafi’s command. According to former General Salah Giuma Yahmed, Qaddafi’s army has been severely weakened by NATO operations. By his estimation, it has been “reduced to 20 percent of its original capacity” and ”not more than 10″ generals remain loyal to him.
The defectors said they escaped Qaddafi’s security forces by secretly fleeing across Libya’s western border with Tunisia, which is controlled by opposition rebels. Though Qaddafi will likely replace the officers remaining loyalists and/or family members, the senior commander’s move sets an important precedent for future defections, which, if they continue at this pace, could completely cripple what’s left of Qaddafi’s command structure.
Oun Ali Oun, one of the generals who spoke with reporters in Rome appealed directly to fellow soldiers and urged them to abandon Qaddafi “in the name of the martyrs who have fallen in the defense of freedom”. Meanwhile, the BBC is reporting that South African President Jacob Zuma is holding talks in Tripoli ”to discuss an immediate ceasefire, the delivery of humanitarian aid and the implementation of reforms needed to end the crisis.” His office is adamant , however, that the talks will not be focusing on an exit strategy for Qaddafi.