Libyan Rebels Reject African Union Cease-Fire Proposal

BENGHAZI, Libya -- The Libyan rebel council rejected a cease-fire proposal presented by an African Union delegation because it did not provide for the departure of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi and his top associates.

Libyan government forces, meanwhile, battered the rebel-held city of Misrata with artillery fire on Monday despite the announcement by the African mediators hours earlier that Qaddafi had accepted their cease-fire proposal.

Rebel council head Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the country's former justice minister, said the initiative "did not respond to the aspirations of the Libyan people" and only involved political reforms.

"The initiative that was presented today it's time has past," said Abdel-Jalil. "We will not negotiate on the blood of our matyrs."

The African negotiators met with Qaddafi late Sunday in the capital, Tripoli, and said he accepted their proposal for a cease-fire with the rebels that would also include a halt to the three-week-old international campaign of airstrikes.

The African Union delegation took its proposal to the rebels' eastern stronghold and was met with protests by crowds opposed to any peace until the country's longtime leader gives up power.

More than 1,000 people waved the pre-Qaddafi flags that have come to symbolize the rebel movement and chanted slogans against Qaddafi, whose more than 40-year rule has been threatened by the uprising that began nearly two months ago.

They said they had little faith in the visiting African Union mediators, most of them allies of Qaddafi who are preaching democracy for Libya but don't practice it at home.

The visit by the African delegation has taken place against a backdrop of weeks of fierce government bombardment of Misrata, the only major city in the western half of Libya that remains under partial rebel control.

The bombardment has terrorized the Mediterranean city, killed dozens of its civilian residents and left it short of food and medical supplies, according to accounts by residents, doctors and rights groups.