Libyan rebels scorn reports of secret Gadafy talks


BENGHAZI – Rebels fighting to topple Muammar Gadafy have poured scorn on reports of secret talks with the Libyan leader as their forces fight to secure their territorial gains.

After 41 years of supreme power in his oil-rich desert state, Gadafy (69) was isolated in the capital Tripoli yesterday, with reinvigorated rebel forces closing in from the west and south.

Libya’s rebel National Transitional Council (NTC), recognised by many of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) states whose air power is supporting their assault, denied any kind of negotiation with Gadafy to resolve the six-month-old conflict.

“The NTC would like to affirm that there are no negotiations either direct or indirect with the Gadafy regime or with the special envoy of the United Nations,” said its leader, Mustafa Abdel Jalil.

Gadafy had to step down and leave Libya, he said. “It is unthinkable to hold any negotiations or talks that disregard this basic principle.”

In Washington, US defence secretary Leon Panetta said Gadafy’s forces had been thrown onto the defensive. Reports that a senior figure in the Libyan security apparatus had defected seemed to indicate the regime was cracking.

Rebels fighting to topple Gadafy have seized two strategic towns near Tripoli over the past two days, cutting the city off from supply lines and leaving the Libyan leader with a dwindling set of options to keep him in power.

However, pro-Gadafy forces were mounting a fightback in one of those towns, Zawiyah, west of Tripoli. Snipers concealed in tall buildings were picking off rebel fighters, while salvos of Russian-made Grad rockets landed in the town.

A Scud missile, an obsolete Soviet-era weapon, was fired on Sunday morning from near Sirte, Gadafy’s now isolated home town, 500km (310.7 miles) east of Tripoli.

It exploded to the east between the rebel-held towns of Brega and Ajdabiyah, a US official said. The missile came down in the desert, injuring no one, said the official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity. There was no immediate comment from Tripoli.

Analysts said use of the inaccurate Scud looked like an act of desperation. “It’s an obvious sign that the regime’s back is to the wall,” said Shashank Joshi, Associate Fellow at Britain’s Royal United Services Institute.

Scuds have a range of about 185 miles (300km). At rebel headquarters in Benghazi, officials said it was probably aimed at rebel forces near Ajdabiyah.

“Gadafy troops are using his last gun. He’s crazy,” said Mohammad Zawawi, media director for rebel forces. “We’re scared he’ll use chemicals. That’s why we’re trying to end this war, and we hope to end it with the least number of casualties. We can’t prevent the Scuds but we hope Nato can. Nato has the technology to detect them.”

Analysts say the rebel strategy is to isolate Tripoli and hope the government collapses, but they say it is possible Gadafy will opt to stage a last-ditch fight. In a call to state television in the early hours of Monday, Gadafy called on his followers to “get ready for the fight . . . The blood of martyrs is fuel for the battlefield.” – (Reuters)