German FM meets rebels as fighting rages in Libya
German's top diplomat met with rebel leaders in their capital Benghazi Monday amid a surge in fighting across Libya and as strongman Moamer Kadhafi said over a chess game he would not step down.
Mikhail Margelov, the special envoy of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, said in Moscow meanwhile he would visit Tripoli next week to hold talks on the Libya conflict.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle arrived in Benghazi Monday morning and went straight to the headquarters of the rebels' National Transitional Council (NTC), which is headed by Mustafa Abdul Jalil, an AFP correspondent said.
Germany abstained from a UN Security Council resolution voted on March 17 backing intervention in Libya and chose not to join the NATO-led air war in support of the rebels.
But German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere said last week his country would be ready to consider sending peacekeeping troops to Libya if and when strongman Kadhafi falls from power.
Kadhafi, however, remains adamant he will not step down, according to the head of the World Chess Federation Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who said that during a game of chess in Tripoli on Sunday the strongman insisted he had no position of power to relinquish.
"I am neither premier nor president nor king. I do not hold any post in Libya and therefore I have no position which I should give up," Ilyumzhinov quoted Kadhafi as telling him during a two-hour meeting and the chess game.
"Kadhafi stated that he is not going to leave Libya, stressing that it is his motherland and a land where his children and grandchildren died."
The chessboard encounter came as fighting between Kadhafi's forces and rebels raged across Libya, with casualties reported in the western town of Zintan and the strategic oil hub of Brega in the east.
Battles were also being fought in the Berber mountains southwest of Tripoli, in nearby Yafran, and at Dafnia near Misrata, Libya's third city, rebel sources told AFP.
An AFP correspondent said Kadhafi's forces pounded the outskirts of Zintan on Sunday, killing at least seven rebels.
Government forces posted a few kilometres (miles) east of Zintan, which remains under rebel control, fired Grad and Katyusha rockets at the town.
The AFP reporter said after visiting the local hospital that at least seven Libyan rebels were killed and 49 wounded in the bombardment.
And in the east of the country, which is largely under the control of the insurgents, a rebel commander told AFP that four of his fighters were killed and 30 wounded in clashes on Sunday with Kadhafi's forces on the frontline between the towns of Ajdabiya and Brega.
Intense rocket fire and shelling rocked an area half-way between Ajdabiya and Brega early on Sunday but "all is calm this morning," Mussa al-Mograbi said on Monday, contacted by telephone.
NATO said it was taking "necessary action" to protect civilians.
"NATO is monitoring the situation closely and is taking necessary action to protect civilians," a statement by the western alliance said.
"Along the north-west coast of Libya between Tripoli and the Tunisian border Libyans long tired of Kadhafi rule are challenging his legitimacy openly, and in doing so, are under threat of attack," it said.
In Tripoli, the regime spokesman said its forces had eliminated rebel "pockets of resistance" at Zawiyah west of the capital.
Mussa Ibrahim told reporters that Kadhafi's forces had "total control" of the area from Ajdabiya in the east to the Tunisian border in the west.
He denied reports that the rebels were gaining ground, while at the same time acknowledging clashes at Zawiyah but playing down their intensity.
"It is pockets of resistance. The rebels there are no more than a hundred. The army has killed some of them, captured others and is negotiating the surrender of others," Ibrahim said.
He also reiterated that the regime rejected any talks about Kadhafi leaving the country.
"No one has the right to demand that the leader stand down. No one can come here with a plan that includes his departure," he said, adding such an idea is "immoral, illegal and has no sense."
Russian envoy Margelov said he was preparing for a visit to Tripoli, but did not make it clear if he would meet with Kadhafi.
"Currently we are finishing talks alongside the Russian foreign ministry on the security of my trip to Tripoli," he told the RIA Novosti news agency.
Margelov last week met the opposition in their Benghazi stronghold, as Russia positions itself as a possible mediator in the conflict.
© 2011 AFP