Peace talks with rebels show progress, Libyan official insists

Opposition leader denies discussions are taking place

AWARNING TO KHADAFY “There is no escape clause for Khadafy — he must be removed from power and face justice,” said Mustafa Abdul-Jalil. AWARNING TO KHADAFY
“There is no escape clause for Khadafy — he must be removed from power and face justice,” said Mustafa Abdul-Jalil.
By Adam Schreck
Associated Press / July 5, 2011

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TRIPOLI, Libya - A senior Libyan official said yesterday that progress has been made in talks with rebels on ending more than four months of fighting, but a top rebel leader denied negotiations were taking place.

The rebel leader, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, also distanced himself from earlier comments attributed to the rebels’ leadership that the opposition might consider allowing Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy to stay in the country as part of a transition deal, provided he resigns and orders a cease-fire.

“There is absolutely no current or future possibility for Khadafy to remain in Libya,’’ Abdul-Jalil said in an e-mailed statement. “There is no escape clause for Khadafy - he must be removed from power and face justice.’’

In the Khadafy-controlled capital of Tripoli, Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim told reporters that talks with various rebel officials have been going on for two months.

He said the negotiations have included some members of the council, based in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi, though he acknowledged that “of course there are elements within the rebellion who are not in favor in talks.’’

The aim of the discussions, taking place outside Libya and over the phone, is to halt hostilities and set a framework for further dialogue, he said.

Asked if progress has been made, he said: “In some areas, yes, of course.’’

Kaim alleged that some members of the NATO-led coalition conducting daily airstrikes in Libya have complicated efforts because they don’t support negotiations. Talks are also being hindered because the rebels do not speak with one voice, he said.

Two weeks ago, Khadafy’s prime minister, al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, said the Libyan government had held a number of “preliminary meetings’’ with officials based in Benghazi. He said at the time that talks are taking place abroad, including in Egypt, Tunisia, and Norway, but did not provide specifics.

However, Abdul-Jalil said that “there are no talks underway with Khadafy’s loyalists, direct or indirect.’’

An antigovernment uprising erupted in Libya in February and quickly turned into an armed conflict. The rebels are in control of the country’s eastern third, while Khadafy clings to the rest. His forces have been unable to retake rebel-controlled pockets.

NATO has been carrying out airstrikes against Khadafy-linked military targets since March. It is joined by a number of Arab allies, including the wealthy Persian Gulf states of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Several bomb blasts shook the capital yesterday as coalition warplanes roared overhead.

In an interview, a Libyan army captain said NATO’s airstrikes are preventing Khadafy’s forces from operating “in a normal coordinated way,’’ forcing them to keep missions secret and work like the rebels in small groups using pickup trucks to avoid detection by NATO planes.

The officer, who is originally from Mali and now holds Libyan nationality, said many suspected rebels have been arrested in Tripoli. Khadafy still retains significant support, including among several Libyan tribes, said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

Also yesterday, Libyan officials said that shortly before dawn they intercepted two boats loaded with weapons from Qatar that were intended for the rebels. Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said 11 rebels were captured in the boats near the town of Janzour, west of Tripoli.

Foreign reporters were later taken to Tripoli’s port where they were shown a cache of rifles and ammunition displayed in a tent, but not the captured boats.

Qatar has emerged as one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the rebels.

Material from Bloomberg News was used in this report. top stories on Twitter

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