Libya rebels take diplomatic push to Turkey, Russia

23rd May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Libya's rebels took their diplomatic offensive to NATO's sole Muslim member Turkey on Monday, a day after the European Union opened a mission in their Benghazi bastion.

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the head of the rebels' provisional administration, was to meet President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu during his two-day visit, the foreign ministry said.

The meetings mark the highest-level contact so far between Turkey and the rebels.

Ankara has toughened its tone in recent weeks after initially criticising the US-led air strikes on Libya launched on March 19 and insisting on a limited combat role for NATO once the alliance took over command.

Earlier this month, Erdogan urged Moamer Kadhafi to "immediately" cede power and leave Libya.

Kadhafi's departure has become "inevitable," he said, adding the Libyan leader "must take this historic step in the name of Libya's future, territorial integrity and peace."

Turkey has proposed a "roadmap" to end the Libyan turmoil, urging an immediate ceasefire, the lifting of sieges by regime forces of rebel-held towns and the launch of a "transformation process" that would lead to free elections.

In Moscow, a rebel representative was due to hold talks with Foreign Minister Minister Sergei Lavrov a week after the top Russia diplomat met emissaries of Kadhafi.

In March, Russia abstained from the UN Security Council resolution on Libya that essentially authorised military action. But since then, the Kremlin has accused the West of exceeding the UN mandate and getting entangled in a full-blown military operation in Libya.

The diplomatic offensive by the rebels came the day after EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton opened an office of the 27-nation bloc in Benghazi.

"We are here for the long term," Ashton promised at the opening.

"The people of Libya have spoken about the future they want. I am here on behalf of all the 27 countries of the European Union to offer our support to that future."

The bloc's foreign ministers were meeting in Brussels on Monday to look at ways forward in Libya as divisions emerge over an exit strategy.

The ministers were expected to discuss how to get the rebels and Kadhafi loyalists to agree to a ceasefire that would include a pullback by regime forces in order to clear the way for a political dialogue.

"Member states currently are less united in the belief that Kadhafi must go before a ceasefire or political talks can begin," one diplomat said. "But the rebel leadership will not budge on this point."

On the ground, there was little movement in the battle lines.

Rebel military spokesman Ahmed Omar Bani said the front line between the rebel-held east and the mainly government-held west remained between the strategic crossroads town of Ajdabiya and the oil refinery town of Brega.

"In Ajdabiya, our forces are at 40 kilometres (25 miles) on the road to Brega," he said, an advance of some 20 kilometres on their positions a few days ago. "We plan to go to Brega in a few days."

Bani said rebel fighters who earlier this month broke the loyalist siege of Libya's third-largest city Misrata -- the rebels' most significant bastion in the west -- had pushed on towards Zliten, the next town along the coast road towards Tripoli.

"Kadhafi forces are outside Zliten but are facing rebels on the eastern outskirts."

Bani spoke of a desperate situation in the other rebel-held enclave in the west -- the mainly Berber hilltowns southwest of the capital.

"In the Nafusa mountains, the situation is terrible. There is no water, no food supplies. We can't help them for the moment, and that is for the last 47 days," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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