Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Libya Rebels Say No to Transition under Kadhafi Son

BENGHAZI

Libyan rebels insisted on Monday that the whole Kadhafi family must leave before there can be any truce with regime forces amid reports that his sons are offering to oversee a transition.

Rebel troops made a new attempt to recapture Brega, advancing to the outskirts of the oil refinery town only to be forced back under artillery fire, as hundreds wounded in besieged third city Misrata were evacuated by a Turkish ship.

Former colonial power Italy announced that it was joining France and Qatar in recognising the rebels’ Transitional National Council and said it too would send ships as well as planes to evacuate the wounded from Misrata.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini dismissed diplomatic overtures from Moamer Kadhafi’s regime as an envoy arrived in Ankara for what a senior Turkish foreign ministry official described as talks about a possible ceasefire.

After Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou held talks with Deputy Foreign Minister Abdelati Laabidi on the previous leg of his mission, Athens said that Kadhafi’s regime was “looking for a solution.”

The New York Times reported that two of his sons were offering to oversee a transition to a constitutional democracy that would include their father’s removal from power.

But the rebels swiftly rejected any deal that involved the Kadhafi family.

“Kadhafi and his sons have to leave before any diplomatic negotiations can take place,” the spokesman of the rebels’ Transitional National Council, Shamseddin Abdulmelah told AFP.

The rebel spokesman said the regime had lost any right to talk of a negotiated exit after it had continued to pound Misrata even as it sent Laabidi to Athens to discuss a way out of the conflict.

“How can you negotiate at the point of a gun?” he asked.

Citing an unnamed diplomat and a Libyan official briefed on the Kadhafis’ proposals, the New York Times said that the transition would be spearheaded by one of the veteran strongman’s sons, Seif al-Islam.

But Abdulmelah said that Seif al-Islam had shown through his conduct since the uprising began on February 15 that his reputation as someone who wanted to change the regime from within was completely baseless.

“People thought he was a reformer but since the revolution began, he has shown his true colours. He is a carbon copy of his father,” the spokesman said.

After talks with the council’s foreign affairs chief Ali Al-Isawi in Rome, the Italian foreign minister too rejected the overtures from Kadhafi’s regime.

“The proposals are not credible. It is not possible to accept them,” Frattini said.

He added that Italy intended to provide the rebels with across-the-board technical assistance following its decision to grant them recognition.

“We talked about immediately sending experts to Benghazi, experts in many fields: energy, transportation, healthcare, infrastructure. These people are to be seconded to the council in Benghazi,” Frattini said.

Rebel fighters came under heavy shelling from Kadhafi’s forces as they pushed towards Brega in a new bid to take the refinery town, forcing them to beat a hasty but measured retreat all the way back to where they started, an AFP correspondent reported.

The battle for the town is fast reaching stalemate.

Kadhafi’s men will not risk advancing further into rebel-held territory through the open desert, where they are easy targets for NATO air strikes.

But the rebels do not have the weaponry to deal with the artillery which the loyalists have inside the town.

More than 250 patients were brought from Misrata to the rebel port of Benghazi on Sunday on board a Turkish aid ship, which was to pick up another 60 or so wounded people from the eastern front before steaming on to the Turkish port of Cesme.

Those on the aid ship, many torn apart by shrapnel and bullets, told of a city under lockdown that has gone weeks without electricity or running water, where snipers have emptied the centre, and mortar rounds and rockets rain down at random on residents huddled inside their homes.

Kadhafi’s forces besieging Misrata, 215 kilometres east of Tripoli, have been targeted by air strikes launched by US, British, French, Canadian, Danish and Belgian jets since March 19 under a UN mandate to use “all necessary measures” to protect civilians, but the siege has not been broken.

The US military had planned to begin withdrawing its combat jets and Tomahawk missiles from the air campaign at the weekend as NATO allies were to take the lead in bombing Kadhafi’s forces.

But the Pentagon announced on Sunday that the US involvement would continue through Monday at NATO’s request, because of “recent poor weather in Libya.”

The head of Britain’s Royal Air Force said its warplanes are likely to play a role in the campaign to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya for at least six months.

“In general terms [we] are now planning on the basis of at least six months, and we’ll see where we go from there,” Air Chief Marshal Stephen Dalton told The Guardian newspaper.

Kadhafi’s regime was hit by another defection.

Former foreign minister and UN General Assembly president Ali Treiki became the latest official to abandon the Libyan leader, after the flight to Britain of foreign minister and regime stalwart Mussa Kussa days earlier.

In Ankara, a senior foreign official ministry official told AFP that a “a ceasefire in Libya is a priority” for Turkey, as it prepared to hold talks with the Libyan deputy foreign minister.

“Both sides have told us that they have certain thoughts on a ceasefire. We will talk to the two sides and see whether there is any common ground,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The opposition is informed about the visit and they may also come (to Turkey) soon,” he added.

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