Libya rebels deny talks with Kadhafi regime
Libya's opposition denied Friday that they are engaged in talks with Moamer Kadhafi's regime, after a Russian envoy said the rebels and the strongman's camp have forged multiple contacts.
Two loud blasts meanwhile shook Libya’s capital Tripoli following a series of more distant explosions, an AFP reporter said.
“I can assure you there is and there was no negotiation between the NTC and the regime,” Mahmud Jibril, the head of international affairs in the rebel National Transitional Council, told a news conference in Naples, Italy.
Russian envoy Mikhail Margelov said earlier in Tunisia that representatives of Kadhafi had made contact with the rebels in a number of European capitals, including Berlin, Paris and Oslo.
Margelov said the Libyans needed an opportunity to negotiate, “a mechanism that brings them together and if the international community can provide such a mechanism that would be a great help”.
“What we have to do now is to support all the efforts inside Libya,” he said. “Political crisis cannot be resolved by military means.”
Margelov, who last week visited the rebels in Benghazi and who is seeking a mediating role in the conflict, had said Thursday after meeting Libyan Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmudi in Tripoli that talks had taken place in Paris only.
He did not disclose the nature of the supposed negotiations.
France however said Friday it is not overseeing any such talks.
“If there have been direct contacts, we’re not involved and we didn’t set them up,” foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.
Mahmudi said on Thursday Kadhafi’s departure was a “red line” that cannot be crossed, despite growing international calls for him to quit and the armed insurrection against his 41-year rule.
An NTC official in the opposition stronghold Benghazi in eastern Libya told AFP on Friday that their position was unchanged.
“Kadhafi must go. Anyone from the rebel side who negotiates his staying in power would immediately have an NTC arrest warrant issued against him,” the official said, on condition of anonymity.
Friday’s blasts in Tripoli came as NATO warplanes constantly overflew the Libyan capital.
The warplanes on Thursday destroyed an apparently empty hotel, the Wenzrik, in central Tripoli near administrative buildings and Libya’s state broadcaster, an AFP reporter taken to the site said.
Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaaim later denounced what he called a “barbaric and premeditated raid by NATO on civilians.”
In a statement Friday, NATO said key hits the previous day included a surface-to-air missile launcher near Tripoli, seven truck-mounted guns and three tanks near Brega and five truck-mounted guns in the Misrata area.
At least five anti-Kadhafi rebels were killed and 30 wounded when they came under sniper fire in villages they seized Wednesday in western Libya, hospital officials said.
The rebels overran the villages of Zawit Bagoul, Lawania and Ghanymma as they sought control of a key junction connecting the towns of Yafran and Zintan.
Rebels were seen patrolling the streets of Zawit Bagoul, 20 kilometres (12.5 miles) from Zintan.
The rebels later also moved into Lawania, about seven kilometres away, and then Ghanymma, less than 10 kilometres from Yafran, as NATO aircraft were heard overhead.
In Washington meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Kadhafi’s forces of using rape and violence against women as “tools of war.”
She said the United States was “deeply concerned” by reports of widescale rape in Libya and “troubled” by reports that governments across the Middle East and North Africa were using sexual violence to punish protesters.
“Kadhafi’s security forces and other groups in the region are trying to divide the people by using violence against women and rape as tools of war, and the United States condemns this in the strongest possible terms,” she said.
In Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council on Friday extended a probe into alleged violations in Libya, asking investigators to give an update on the situation at the UN body’s September session.
The UN team of investigators had accused Kadhafi’s regime of carrying out systematic attacks on the population, saying it committed war crimes and also crimes against humanity.
While it noted fewer reports of violations by the opposition, the commission of inquiry set up by the UN Human Rights Council also found rebel forces committed acts that constituted war crimes.
However, as the inquiry team was able to visit Libya only for a short period, it had sought an extension of its mandate.