Eight high-ranking Libyan army officers appeared in Rome on Monday, saying they were part of a group of as many as 120 military officials and soldiers who had defected from leader Muammar Qaddafi’s side, the Reuters news agency reported.
According to the report, the eight officers include five generals, two colonels and a major. They spoke at a news conference organized by the Italian government.
“What is happening to our people has frightened us,” one officer, who identified himself as General Oun Ali Oun, was quoted by Reuters as having said. “There is a lot of killing, genocide ... violence against women. No wise, rational person with the minimum of dignity can do what we saw with our eyes and what he asked us to do.”
Another officer, General Salah Giuma Yahmed, claimed Qaddafi’s army was weakening daily and that the force had been reduced to 20 percent of its original capacity. He was quoted as saying that “Qaddafi’s days are numbered.”
Libyan UN ambassador Abdurrahman Shalgam confirmed that the 120 military personnel had defected. He said they were outside Libya, but did not say where they were.
Earlier, Al Arabiya television had reported that all 120 officers had arrived in Rome. The Libyan ambassador to Rome said, however, that only the eight present at the news conference were in the Italian capital.
Meanwhile, a video posted to YouTube on Monday shows hundreds of angry funeral mourners chanting slogans against Qaddafi. Reuters, which reported on the video, quoted activists who said it was proof that protests were growing in the capital.
The video showed hundreds of demonstrators at a funeral as they shouted: “Muammar is the enemy of God!” and “God loves martyrs!”
Activists claimed the video was filmed Monday at the burial for two slain protesters in the Souq al-Jumaa suburb of the capital.
So far, Qaddafi has retained control of Tripoli and the west of the country, while the east has fallen into the hands of the rebels.
An activist who posted the video on YouTube said the funeral had been dispersed by Qaddafi’s security forces who arrived in trucks and fired live ammunition. This could not be verified.
The reports on the defectors come as South African President Jacob Zuma visited the Libyan capital on Monday, hoping to broker an end to the fighting in the country.
Following his meeting with Qaddafi, Zuma said the Libyan leader is ready for a truce to stop the fighting in his country.
According to a report by The Associated Press, Zuma said Qaddafi is ready to accept an African Union initiative for a ceasefire that would stop all hostilities, including NATO airstrikes in support of rebel forces.
Zuma was quoted as saying Qaddafi insists that “all Libyans be given a chance to talk among themselves” to determine the country’s future. He did not say Qaddafi is ready to step down, which has been the central demand of the rebels.