Libyan rebels reject Gaddafi's ceasefire offer

Gaddafi says he won't leave Libya; NATO denies reports that Gaddafi forces control Misrata port; rebels say Gaddafi has lost his credibility.

By REUTERS
April 30, 2011 15:02
4 minute read.
Muammar Gaddafi in a live broadcast on state tv

Muammar Gaddafi 520. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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TRIPOLI, April 30 (Reuters) - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said on Saturday he was ready for a ceasefire and negotiations provided NATO "stop its planes," but he refused to give up power as rebels and Western powers demand.

The insurgents rejected Gaddafi's offer, saying he had lost credibility and the time for compromise had passed.

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Weeks of Western air strikes have failed to dislodge the Libyan leader, instead imposing a stalemate on a war Gaddafi looked to have been winning, with government forces held at bay in the east and around the besieged city of Misrata while fighting for control of the western mountains.

With neither side apparently able to gain the upper hand, Gaddafi struck a more conciliatory tone in an 80-minute televised address to the nation in the early hours of Saturday.

"[Libya] is ready until now to enter a ceasefire," said Gaddafi, speaking from behind a desk and aided by reams of paper covered in what appeared to be hand-written notes.

"We were the first to welcome a ceasefire and we were the first to accept a ceasefire ... but the Crusader NATO attack has not stopped," he said. "The gate to peace is open."

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Gaddafi denied mass attacks on civilians and challenged NATO to find him 1,000 people who had been killed in the conflict.

"We did not attack them or cross the sea ... why are they attacking us?" asked Gaddafi, referring to European countries involved in the air strikes. "Let us negotiate with you, the countries that attack us. Let us negotiate."

But as he spoke, NATO warplanes hit three targets close to the television building in Tripoli in what state media said was an attempt to kill Gaddafi who has ruled Libya for 41 years.

The air strikes left a large crater outside the attorney general's office but did not damage the building and hit two other government offices housed in colonial-era buildings. It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties.

Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, spokesman for the rebel's transitional national council, dismissed Gaddafi's gesture, saying the Libyan leader had repeatedly offered truces only to continue violating human rights.

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"Gaddafi's regime has lost all credibility," Ghoga said in a statement. "The time for compromise has passed. The people of Libya cannot possibly envisage or accept a future Libya in which cannot possibly envisage or accept a future Libya in which Gaddafi's regime plays any role."

The rebels' military spokesman, Colonel Ahmed Bani, also said Gaddafi was "playing dirty games ... He doesn't speak honestly. We don't believe him and we don't trust him."

Previous ceasefire offers have been rebuffed by NATO as Libyan government forces continued to fight on.

It looks as if that pattern would be repeated as Gaddafi indicated he wanted both sides to stop fighting at once, saying "a ceasefire cannot be from one side".

More importantly though, the Libyan leader refused to leave his North African homeland or step down, the central demand of the rebels, the United States, and also of France and Britain which are leading the NATO air campaign.

"I'm not leaving my country," Gaddafi said. "No one can force me to leave my country and no one can tell me not to fight for my country."

Gaddafi's forces showed no sign of giving up the fight either, claiming to have captured the port of the city of Misrata on Friday, the last major rebel outpost in western Libya, but NATO said it saw no evidence of that.

Libya's government has threatened to attack any ships approaching Misrata, potentially depriving insurgents of a lifeline to their heartland in the east of the country.

NATO said Gaddafi forces had laid mines on the approach to the harbor, which has been under siege for weeks, and forced a temporary halt in humanitarian shipments.

"NATO forces are now actively engaged in countering the mine threat to ensure the flow of aid continues," the alliance said.

Further west, the war spilled into Tunisia when Gaddafi's forces overran a rebel enclave at the frontier. The Libyan army shelled the Tunisian border town of Dehiba, damaging buildings and wounding at least one person, witnesses said. They said Libyan soldiers drove into the town in a truck chasing rebels.

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