Libyan rebels discover Gaddafi’s chemical weapons

The Guardian reports:

Libyan rebel forces claim to have discovered banned chemical weapons stockpiles in southern desert areas captured from Gaddafi loyalists in the last few days.

Spokesmen for the National Transitional Council (NTC) said a depot had been found in the Jufra area, 435 miles (700km) south of Tripoli, during part of an offensive against regime strongholds in the remote south of the country.

The rebels also say they have now taken most of Sebha, the largest town in the area whose tribes were long seen as loyal to Gaddafi and is an important staging post for travel to Niger, where some former regime figures have fled. Libyan officials have confirmed that a senior intelligence officer was captured there two days ago.

It had been thought that Gaddafi himself might have been hiding in Sebha along with his fugitive second son, Saif al-Islam, but NTC fighters found no trace of them.

In New York, Libya’s new leaders were welcomed this week at the UN.

Libya’s new flag flew at the United Nations on Tuesday for the first time since Muammar Gaddafi’s overthrow as U.S. President Barack Obama called for the last of the deposed leader’s loyalists to stop fighting.

International leaders at a high-level U.N. conference on Libya congratulated Libyans — and themselves — for Gaddafi’s removal by NATO-backed rebels in a seven-month-old conflict.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, welcoming Libya’s new leaders into the international community, said the Security Council had acted to protect the Libyan people from violence.

“Today, we must once again respond with such speed and decisive action — this time to consolidate peace and democracy,” Ban added.

Libya has reverted to the flag that was used from 1951 until 1977 when Gaddafi, who ruled for nearly 42 years, introduced a green flag for his Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, or people’s republic.

Libya’s new rulers, finally recognized on Tuesday by the African Union, are still trying to dislodge well-armed Gaddafi loyalists from several towns and have yet to start a countdown toward writing a new constitution and holding elections.

They face questions about whether they can unify a country divided on tribal, regional and ideological lines.

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, president of Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council (NTC), promised a spirit of tolerance and reconciliation and appealed for international assistance to help his country emerge from conflict and build democracy.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports:

A prominent critic of Libya’s new rulers said on Tuesday interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril should resign over what he said was a failure to supply ammunition to troops fighting forces still loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.

Demands have been made before for members of the country’s National Transitional Council (NTC) to step down, but the latest intervention is likely to add to pressure on Jibril, who is already struggling with a stalled military offensive and a failure to form a new government.

Influential Islamist scholar Ali Al-Sallabi told Reuters that Jibril was responsible for failing to get enough ammunition to anti-Gaddafi forces struggling to take Sirte, one of the last remaining bastions of the former veteran ruler.

Sallabi, jailed in the 1980s for opposition activities, suggested ammunition levels among NTC forces were dangerously low.

“No doubt on the eastern front the ammunition has finished. We should ask Mr. Jibril, why did it finish?,” he said, speaking through a translator.

“Now there is an immense mass of revolutionaries that do not want Jibril. Accordingly, Mr. Jibril should resign. Why is he insisting to continue? Such persistence I see is a political mistake which is not in the interest of the Libyan people.”

NTC military spokesman Ahmed Bani denied that supplies were a problem. “There’s enough ammunition. The fighters say there is enough,” he told Reuters.

Since the fall of Tripoli a month ago, Sallabi has emerged as a prominent spokesman for groups of Islamists unhappy about what they see as attempts by Benghazi-based NTC leaders to exclude them from political life.

He has no formal political role but is a significant voice in Libyan affairs because he has good relations with Qatar, an influential backer of the NTC, and has a wide network of contacts in global Islamist circles.

He also is a friend of Tripoli’s military commander Abdel Hakim Belhadj, a rising Islamist figure in post-Gaddafi Libya.

Sallabi’s brother, Ismail, a commander of anti-Gaddafi fighters, earlier this month called on the NTC to resign because they were “remnants of the old regime.”

Sallabi’s pressure comes at a delicate moment for Jibril. His administration is in political limbo after he failed to get the full backing of the NTC for an enlarged executive committee, or cabinet, with himself ruling as both prime minister and foreign minister.

The executive committee was dissolved last month after procedural errors in an investigation into the unexplained killing of the NTC’s military chief. Sources familiar with the negotiations said that one of the sticking points in the weekend meeting was the future role of Jibril in the new cabinet.

In a telephone interview with Reuters from Qatar, where he is temporarily based, Sallabi said Jibril had failed to cultivate good relations with neighbouring countries such as Algeria, Niger, Chad and Tunisia.

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One thought on “Libyan rebels discover Gaddafi’s chemical weapons

  1. Christopher Hoare

    Ali Al-Sallabi sounds like a voice from the peanut gallery at the moment—the job of switching Libya away from Qaddhafi is not over. Prominent Islamist scholar issuing ‘wisdom’ from the safety of Qatar is not a very impressive CV in this world. I suppose the rulers of Qatar expect to have their own trained seals in Libya when the spoils are divided.

    Think about it, Ali, are you helping or hindering the revolution?

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