The fight for Libya

The BBC reports:

In Benghazi, the opposition National Libyan Council said there was no room for talks, following reports that Col Gaddafi had ordered an intelligence chief to negotiate with the rebels.

The council is led by former Libyan Interior Minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, who defected last month.

“If there is any negotiation it will be on one single thing – how Gaddafi is going to leave the country or step down so we can save lives. There is nothing else to negotiate,” Ahmed Jabreel, a spokesman for Mr Abdel-Jalil, told Reuters news agency.

The BBC’s Kevin Connolly in Benghazi says it appears that neither side has the capacity to move large amounts of manpower or firepower over vast expanses of desert.

He says that raises the grim prospect of a military stalemate and a political vacuum after the revolt that began in the east of the country in mid-February.

Al Jazeera reports:

Muammar Gaddafi has accepted an offer from Venezuela to mediate in Libya’s political crisis after talks with Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, Al Jazeera has learnt.

Sources told our correspondent in Caracas that Nicolas Maduro, Venezuelan’s foreign minister, had discussed the offer with Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League, and that details of the plan could be announced by the Arab League in Cairo on Thursday.

Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the opposition National Libyan Council, told Al Jazeera he totally rejected the concept of talks with Gaddafi, and said that no one been in contact with him regarding the Venezuelan initiative.

The plan would involve a commission from Latin America, Europe and the Middle East trying to reach a negotiated outcome between the Libyan leader and opposition forces which have seized control of large areas of the North African oil-producing country.

AFP reports:

After decades of financing and training rebels and liberation movements, Libya’s Moamer Gathafi is accused of using his influence to amass an army of mercenaries from across sub-Saharan Africa.

Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Chad, Mali and Zimbabwe: One only has to name a conflict, rebel group or despot in Africa to find someone the Libyan leader has offered finance, training or backing to during his 41-year reign.

He has also aided peacekeeping operations, given aid and built infrastructure.

And now, waving oil money to the south, Gathafi is said to have lured some 25,000 mercenaries to quash a popular revolt against his regime.

Peter Beaumont writes:

Gaddafi can no more quickly attack Benghazi with his armour than the rebels can advance on Tripoli in sufficient numbers to force the issue decisively. For either side to move the hundreds of kilometres to come into contact would require a huge logistical operation using tank and armour carriers which could not drive the long distances and still be ready to fight.

Why this matters is simple. Foreign policy – including the increasing threat of military intervention – is being driven by what the media is reporting from Libya, and that is being driven largely by reports from the opposition, some of which are true, some of them dubious. The Libyan government says that. But for once, in the midst of all the regime’s evasions, lies and fantastical notions, it may just have a point.

We are being drawn into a crisis where credible information about so much of what is happening is not simply at a premium, it is often impossible to mine from among all the exaggerations and misinformation.

Martin Chulov reports on the battle for Brega:

To the rebels of eastern Libya, it was always a matter of when. On Wednesday morning, sooner than many had expected, Gaddafi’s men came for them.

A thundering burst of machine-gun fire just before 6.30am heralded the attack on the outskirts of Brega, a sand-strewn service town about 150 miles south of Benghazi. The loyalist forces had crept in during the night, patiently set up in an industrial area on the city limits, and dug in.

“They arrived in 60-70 Toyota trucks,” said Wais Werfali, 40, who works in a nearby ammonia production plant. “They have set up a perimeter and are using families from the area as human shields.”

By sunset, the battle had been joined by rebels streaming down from the city of Ajdabiya. A decisive phase in this war for control of eastern Libya had begun.

Peter Beaumont reports from the Tripoli suburb of Tajura, the target of a crackdown on rebels where ‘disappearances’ are increasing.

Tajura, with its population of about 100,000, is made up mainly of poor and middle-class Libyans who live in three-storey apartment blocks and houses built around little squares and alleys.

It is here that residents say gunmen in pickup trucks fired wildly into the crowd last week. It now feels like a ghost town, with shops shuttered and few people on the streets, which still bear the scars of the clashes.

We had been met on a dark corner by a group of youths keeping watch on the street. They were suspicious of the driver, who was sent away after being questioned briefly. There was evidence on the roadside of felled palm trees that had been used as barricades and anti-government graffiti, painted over with red paint.

“Fifteen of them came and kicked in the door,” Bilhaj says inside the house. “They turned the house upside down. In this neighbourhood, 20 have disappeared. We don’t know where they have gone.

“The people in this area feel threatened. They are scared. The government says if there are any protests in the streets here they will burn them.”

We ask what his brothers did to be arrested. “They spoke out. They were targeted because they were ones who oppose the government. Tonight they will come and take more people. Our street is almost empty. The men have been taken and the families fled elsewhere.”

Al Jazeera reports:

Thousands of people continue to flee the violence in Libya, with most refugees attempting to enter neighbouring Tunisia or Egypt, though there are pressing concerns regarding African migrants who remain trapped in the country, unable to leave for fear of being attacked by both the government and the opposition.

Officials say that tens of thousands of people remain just inside Libya’s borders, awaiting evacuation, safe passage or the granting of asylum, while thousands more have so far not attempted to leave their homes for fear of their own safety.

International Organisation for Migration officials say that almost 200,000 people have fled Libya since violence began several weeks ago, headed towards neighbouring Egypt, Tunisia and Niger.

The New York Times reports:

President Obama demanded Thursday that the embattled Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, “step down and leave” immediately, and said he would consider a full range of options to stem the bloodshed there, though he did not commit the United States to any direct military action.

In his most forceful response to the near-civil war in Libya, Mr. Obama said the United States would consider imposing a “no-fly zone” over the country — a step his defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, warned a day earlier would carry major risks, requiring the United States to destroy Libya’s air defenses.

Mr. Obama said the United States and the world were outraged by Colonel Qaddafi’s “appalling violence against the Libyan people.” Speaking after he met with President Felipe Calderón of Mexico at the White House, he declared, “Muammar Qaddafi has lost the legitimacy to lead, and must leave.”

The president’s statement, while robust, left important questions unanswered: Where would Colonel Qaddafi go, given the lack of countries that have offered him sanctuary? And what kind of intervention, beyond airlifting refugees on military planes, would the United States be willing to undertake?

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3 thoughts on “The fight for Libya

  1. Norman

    For the U.S. to enforce a No fly zone, entails invading Libya is fact. The U.S. can’t afford to do that, nit just from a legal stand point, but also, where would they get the personnel implement then occupy the country afterward? Those Senators bandying such action, are the old guard left in the Congress, that don’t add anything but a lot of hot air.

  2. Colm O' Toole

    Agree Norman

    When the idea was first mentioned last week I was generally supportive of the idea (anything to help the revolutionaries I thought) but when it started to become discussed and I realised that it would involve bombing air defense systems, would give Gaddaffi something to rally around and was rejected by Russia and China as well as Germany I had second thoughts.

    In saying that, the links Paul just posted make for worrying reading. It looks like a stalemate is forming between the protesters East and the Gaddaffi West with neither side able to bring down the other. Hopefully the rebels have some plan of action but the situation looks worrying.

  3. Christopher Hoare

    Two short-sighted comments above. Who the hell would expect any American action to resolve a crisis? In case no-one noticed, there are far more trustworthy allies for the Libyan rebels than the US and Europe. The Arab League has the legitimacy to provide assistance and needs no approval from the Security Council — hamstrung by the powers that want no interventions that they do not control for their own purposes (as in Georgia).

    What the Libyans need from the US and Europe is the will to actually carry out the measures they have announced. Designating all of Qaddhafi’s mercenaries as criminals but offering them a way out is something both could do. Putting heat on Algeria to cease supporting Qaddhafi materially would weaken his powers to resist. And yes, encouraging the Arab League to undertake the actions they’ve announced in words would be a good measure for the West to take — and lay to rest any accusation that they are only interested in the oil. (They may be only half interested in the oil.)

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