JOHANNESBURG South African President Jacob Zuma will visit Tripoli next week for talks with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and is optimistic that the meeting could help find a lasting solution to the Libyan crisis.
Zuma spokesman Zizi Kodwa told Reuters Television that the visit, on behalf of the African Union (AU), was aimed at seeking an immediate end to hostilities in line with a roadmap drawn up by the regional body in March.
The South African president headed an AU mission to Tripoli in April but the bid to halt the civil war collapsed within hours when rebels said shelling was continuing despite Gaddafi agreeing to a ceasefire.
The AU does not have a good track record in brokering peace deals, having failed recently to end conflicts or disputes in Somalia, Madagascar and Ivory Coast.
"The president is optimistic, very optimistic, that on behalf of the AU Monday's meeting will help in some way to find a lasting solution to the Libyan problem," Kodwa said.
In a separate statement, the presidency described as "misleading" reports that the visit was to discuss an exit strategy for Gaddafi. Johannesburg-based Talk Radio 702 earlier reported that that was the intention of the visit.
Some analysts say South Africa, which has played host to ousted leaders from Madagascar and Haiti, could play a key role in finding a home for Gaddafi.
The two countries have certainly had close ties in the past. When he was released from prison, Nelson Mandela visited Libya to thank Gaddafi for his support in the fight against apartheid.
Kodwa said there was greater need to find a solution to the Libyan conflict.
"To the world, to Africa, particularly to the AU, there is a greater need to find a lasting ... immediate solution in order to arrest the deteriorating humanitarian crisis, the continued conflict and bombing in that country to make sure we bring about everlasting stability in Libya," Kodwa said.
A South African official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the aim of the latest effort from the African Union was "to seek a breakthrough."
Last week, South Africa accused Libya of misleading it over the fate of a South African photographer now believed to be dead after being shot and abandoned in the desert by forces loyal to Gaddafi.
South Africa's ruling African National Congress said it was incensed by the use of deadly force against civilians and journalists and accused Libya of dishonesty.
(Additional reporting by Shafiek Tassiem in Cape Town, Peroshni Govender in Johannesburg and Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara; Editing by Alison Williams)