Negotiations break down at besieged Gaddafi holdout

Analyst: Rebels employing talks, not tanks, in a bid to win public favor.

By OREN KESSLER
September 5, 2011 01:09
3 minute read.
Mustafa Abdel Jalil NTC chair

Mustafa Abdel Jalil NTC chair_311. (photo credit: Reuters)

Talks to end a standoff around the besieged Libyan town of Bani Walid broke down on Sunday, a negotiator for fighters hunting Muammar Gaddafi said.

Bani Walid, along with Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte and the desert town of Sabha, are three of the last main areas not under the rebels’ control, though their forces are massed nearby.

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Steven Sotloff, an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the rebels are under no illusions that the fight for Bani Walid will be easy.

“There is a feeling the place can’t be taken easily, and that’s why they are negotiating,” he told The Jerusalem Post by email from Tripoli. “If they thought they could take it, they would.”

The rebels have said they are entering into negotiations over the city in an effort to avoid additional bloodshed, but would employ military force if necessary.

“It’s difficult to gauge the rebels’ true motives here – whether they seek to avoid bloodshed or avoid military losses. If they go in and kill civilians in Bani Walid, people will be mad, and that could linger and lead to negative feelings toward rebel leadership at a time when they want to unify the country,” Sotloff wrote.

“A policy of negotiation rather than embarking on a military campaign seems to be a judicious one because it seeks to avoid casualties.”

After talks with tribal elders, the rebels’ Abdallah Kanshil told reporters, “As chief negotiator, I have nothing to offer right now. From my side, negotiations are finished... They said they don’t want to talk, they are threatening everyone who moves. They are putting snipers on high rise buildings and inside olive groves, they have a big fire force. We compromised a lot at the last minute.

“We will leave this for the field commanders to decide, for the NTC to decide what to do next,” Kanshil said of the interim authority, the National Transitional Council.

He added that he believed that two of Gaddafi’s sons and his spokesman Moussa Ibrahim were in Bani Walid, and there has been speculation from NTC officials that members of the Gaddafi family, even the former leader himself, may be hiding there.

Tribal elders from the city, a bastion of support for Gaddafi, came out to negotiate after NTC spokesmen had said several times over the previous day that talks were over and they were preparing to attack.

NTC commanders at the checkpoint said they suspected Gaddafi’s most politically prominent son, Saif al-Islam, may have fled the town on Saturday and headed deeper into the southern desert.

One NTC commander said that about 20 pro-Gaddafi fighters still controlled the center of Bani Walid, though other NTC officials estimated there may be as many as 100 fighters waiting in the town.

Meanwhile, Algeria’s Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia defended his country’s decision to shelter members of Gaddafi’s family, describing it as a humanitarian case.

The deposed Libyan leader’s wife Safia, daughter Aisha and sons Muhammad and Hannibal entered Algeria on August 29 after the Libyan leader was ousted from power in a six-month rebellion.

Aisha gave birth to a girl hours after crossing the border.

Libya’s interim rulers have criticized Algeria’s decision to shelter Gaddafi’s family as an “act of aggression.”

“They are Algeria’s responsibility,” Ouyahia said of the Gaddafi family members in Algeria, describing the case as humanitarian.

“The Libyans themselves...

asked us to consider them as Algerians,” he added, without specifying which Libyans had made such a request.

Defending the decision to offer refuge to Gaddafi’s family, he said members of toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s family had been taken in by other countries.

When Saudi Arabia took in ousted Tunisian leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali earlier this year, that move did not create “such a storm,” he said.

Algeria is the only one of Libya’s North African neighbors yet to recognize the National Transitional Council, whose fighters have taken control of Tripoli and much of the rest of the country, as Libya’s new government.

Algeria will recognize Libya’s new leaders when they establish a representative government, its foreign minister said in an interview this week.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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