Envoys say Gadafy prepared to quit in negotiated deal


TRIPOLI – Emissaries from Libya’s Muammar Gadafy have been in contact with Nato members to indicate that he is ready to leave power, France’s government said yesterday, the latest sign of a possible negotiated end to the crisis.

“A political solution is more than ever indispensable and is beginning to take shape,” French prime minister François Fillon told a parliamentary commission which was considering whether to extend France’s military operations in Libya.

Nato powers have until now been focused firmly on air strikes and backing the rebels trying to overthrow Col Gadafy. But five months into the insurrection and with no sign of a breakthrough, attention is shifting to a political solution.

Earlier, French foreign minister Alain Juppé had said emissaries from Col Gadafy’s government were in contact with several Nato members, though he said there were no fully-fledged negotiations yet.

“Emissaries are telling us Gadafy is ready to go. Let’s talk about it,” Mr Juppé said, adding that the envoys said they were coming in the name of Col Gadafy. “The question is no longer about whether Gadafy goes but when and how,” Mr Juppé said.

“Everybody is in contact with everybody. The Libyan regime is sending messengers everywhere, to Turkey, New York, Paris,” the foreign minister said on France Info state radio. “There are contacts but it’s not a negotiation proper at this stage.”

How reliable the information from the emissaries is remains unclear. Many observers warn of the need to be cautious about taking everything emanating from the Libyan government at face value because previous peace offers have come to nothing.

Sources say the envoys are close aides to Col Gadafy who are in contact with intermediaries who report directly to French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

It was not obvious how Col Gadafy could be persuaded to change his mind through negotiations.

Some analysts say Col Gadafy will only step down if he is left with no other options. But appeals for negotiations could be seen in Tripoli as a sign the West’s resolve is weakening, and encourage Gadafy to hold out longer.

France spearheaded the West’s military intervention in Libya but is growing impatient. Mr Sarkozy took a gamble by taking a personal role in supporting the opposition rebels, but is now anxious to avoid costly military operations running into the start of campaigning for the April 2012 presidential election.

Libya’s rebels are still focused on forcing Col Gadafy from power. A senior official with the rebel council said he believed the Libyan leader would be gone by the start of August, and he predicted a military breakthrough against loyalist forces within the next 48 hours.

Western officials talking about a possible deal are making references to a plan drawn up by the African Union. That proposal allows for a ceasefire, access for humanitarian assistance and the launch of a dialogue.

After a summit earlier this month, African Union leaders said Col Gadafy’s administration had agreed he would not take part in the negotiating process, but it was not clear if that also meant there would be no future role for him.

Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini, who was visiting Libya’s neighbour Algeria yesterday, added his voice to the calls for a negotiated deal.

Col Gadafy says the rebels are armed criminals and al-Qaeda militants. He has called the Nato operation an act of colonial aggression aimed at stealing Libyan oil.

Rebel advances towards the capital – which some in the West had thought could trigger the collapse of Col Gadafy’s rule – have made slow progress. Strains are expected to surface on Friday when the contact group, which brings together the countries allied against Col Gadafy, meets in Istanbul. – (Reuters)