UN envoy, rebels say no Libya peace plan yet

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The U.N. envoy to Libya and the Benghazi-based rebel council discussed ideas yesterday for ending the civil war, but said a firm initiative had yet to take shape.

With a diplomatic push to end the conflict gathering steam, envoy Abdul Elah al-Khatib told Reuters after the meeting that he would head to Tripoli today to canvas government views.
“We did not put a plan in front of them. We discussed the views and ideas on how we can trigger a political process… to achieve a political solution,” Khatib said.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is clinging to power despite a four-month NATO air campaign and five months of fighting with rebels who have seized large parts of the North African country.

NATO has continued to hammer Gaddafi’s forces around Libya, striking twice in central Tripoli yesterday, and Britain has said there would be no let up during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in August. But hopes have grown for a negotiated end to a war that has dragged on longer than many initially expected.

Speaking to Reuters after the meeting, senior rebel official Mahmoud Jibreel said he had made clear his side would reject any initiative that did not involve the removal of Gaddafi from power as a first step to peace.

That appears to be a tacit rejection of U.N. ideas floated informally by a diplomat last week, which envisaged a ceasefire followed by a power-sharing government without Gaddafi.

Khatib, a senior Jordanian politician, told Reuters in Amman last week that his ideas involved an agreement on a ceasefire and, simultaneously, a deal on setting up a mechanism to manage the transitional period. He gave no details.
“So far, there is no initiative. He is trying to propose some general ideas, see what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, and on the basis of that he can propose an initiative,” Jibreel said. “We are not committed to anything unless we have something written.”

Khatib’s visit comes a day after Gaddafi’s foreign minister, Abdelati Obeidi, ended three days of talks in Cairo to seek a negotiated end to the war.

Libya’s government has said its representatives are ready to hold more talks with the United States and the rebels, but that Gaddafi himself will not negotiate and will not quit.

Spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said on Friday that senior Libyan officials had a “productive dialogue” with U.S. counterparts earlier this month in a rare meeting that followed U.S. recognition of the rebel government.

Complicating Gaddafi’s situation is the fact that the world court in The Hague is seeking his arrest for crimes against humanity allegedly committed by his forces. This makes it difficult for him to find refuge outside the country.

Hopes for a negotiated settlement have grown, however, since France said for the first time last week that Gaddafi could stay in Libya as long as he gives up power.

The rebel leaders have given conflicting signals in recent weeks over whether they would allow Gaddafi and his family to stay in Libya as part of a deal, providing he gave up power. In the latest comment on the issue, opposition leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil told the Wall Street Journal that it would be acceptable.
“Gaddafi can stay in Libya but it will have conditions,” he said. “We will decide where he stays and who watches him. The same conditions will apply to his family.”

The poorly armed rebels seem unlikely to unseat Gaddafi quickly. Rebels announced they had almost taken the oil town of Brega, but later said that minefields had slowed their advance. Libyan state TV showed images of empty streets and oil storage facilities in Brega that it said were taken yesterday.

Rebels fighting on the western front near Misrata, say they have pushed closer to Zlitan, on the Mediterranean coast 160 km (100 miles) east of Tripoli.

But the front near Zlitan was relatively quiet on Monday. Twenty casualties were taken to hospital in the nearby rebel-held city of Misrata and to a field hospital, but doctors said most had only light shrapnel wounds.

Zlitan is the largest city between rebel-held Misrata and Tripoli, and remains in Gaddafi’s control. Were the rebels to take Zlitan, attention would turn to Khums, the next large town on the coastal road to the capital.

Tripoli-based journalists were taken to Zlitan on Monday to see what officials said were some food warehouses and a medical facility that were hit by NATO forces. It was not immediately clear whether the buildings were used by civilians or the military.

Some blankets and oxygen tanks but no beds could be seen in a destroyed building that officials said was a clinic.

Sacks of flour and rice were piled up inside the warehouses. In one, an unexploded bomb was dusted with flour. Another store was still burning.
“My family gets food from here. We would use this food for Ramadan and it is all destroyed,” said Mohammed Mokhtar, a resident, told Reuters. “They want to starve us.”

Britain said its warplanes on patrol near Zlitan successfully struck four buildings on Saturday, which NATO surveillance had identified as command and control centres and staging posts, as well as hitting an ammunition stockpile.

Apache helicopters also struck a number of military positions between Zlitan and Khums, it said.