'We won’t surrender to rebels even if West intervenes'

Libya preparing full-scale military action to crush rebellion says Muammar Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam; NATO, EU start talks over no-fly zone.

By OREN KESSLER, REUTERS
March 11, 2011 04:40
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi.

Saif Gaddafi 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Libya is preparing full-scale military action to crush the current rebellion and will not surrender even if Western powers intervene in the conflict, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s most prominent son, Saif al-Islam, said on Thursday.

“It’s time for liberation. It’s time for action. We are moving now,” he told Reuters in an English-language interview.

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Asked if the government was preparing to step up its military campaign, he said: “Time is out now. It’s time for action...We gave them two weeks (for negotiations).”

“We will never ever give up. We will never ever surrender. This is our country. We fight here in Libya. The Libyan people, we will never ever welcome NATO, we will never ever welcome Americans here. Libya is not a piece of cake.”

Earlier on Thursday, the top US spy chief said that better-equipped forces loyal to Gaddafi were likely to prevail in the long run against rebels fighting to end his 41-year rule.

National Intelligence Director James Clapper gave his assessment as the United States and its NATO allies debated in Brussels over how to support Libyan opposition groups who have suffered a series of military setbacks.



Libyan forces reportedly reasserted control on Thursday over the strategic battlegrounds of Zawiyah and Ras Lanuf, and warplanes hit another oil hub further east as Gaddafi carried counterattacks deeper into the insurgent heartland.

Despite their losses, the rebels took an important step towards international legitimacy when France recognized their national council.

In the west, Gaddafi’s army laid siege to starve out insurgents clinging to parts of the shattered city of Zawiyah, strategically significant because it is close to his power base in the capital Tripoli, after fierce see-saw battles this week. Few foreign journalists have been able to reach Zawiyah, but Deborah Haynes of the UK newspaper The Times tweeted from the battered city, “Rebels no where to be seen in center of Zawiyah.

Major clean-up operation going on, green flags everywhere.

France became the first significant country on Thursday to recognize the rebel Libyan National Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people. An official at President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office said France would send an ambassador to Benghazi and receive a Libyan envoy in Paris. He was speaking after Sarkozy met officials from the council.

Britain’s Foreign Office suggested it could make the same move as France, saying Libyan National Council members were “valid interlocutors” and Gaddafi should step down now. “The UK recognizes states, not governments. The interim national council are valid interlocutors, with whom we wish to work closely,” a Foreign Office spokesman said.

NATO and the European Union were looking into imposing a no-fly zone over Libya to stop the government using jets and helicopters against the outgunned rebels, who seized a string of cities east and west of Tripoli early in the three-week-old war to end Gaddafi’s 41 years of iron-fisted rule.

Despite rebel appeals to take the skies away from Gaddafi’s forces, no quick action was expected as NATO has made clear it needs wider, United Nations endorsement for such a move.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Thursday that any NATO military action in Libya would have to be based on there being a demonstrable need, a clear mandate and support in the region.

“Any operation we undertake needs to respect three key principles,” Rasmussen said, as NATO defense ministers met to discuss options to respond to the turmoil in Libya. “Firstly there has to be demonstrable need for NATO action, secondly there has to be a clear legal basis, and thirdly there has to be firm regional support.”

More than 500 km. east of Tripoli, Gaddafi’s warplanes and gunboats off the Mediterranean coast bombarded rebels Thursday around Ras Lanuf, with projectiles crashing close to a building of the Libyan Emirates Oil Refinery Company.

The New York Times reported that fighters had fled the strategic refinery town after a series of air strikes. Insurgents fired anti-aircraft guns towards warplanes and rockets out to sea towards Gaddafi’s naval forces, but without visible effect.

The rebels also reported an air strike on Brega, another oil port 90 km. east of Ras Lanuf, indicating that Gaddafi loyalists had not only halted a westwards insurgent push in its tracks but were making inroads into the rebels’ eastern centers.

State television said rebels had been ousted from the port and airport of Es-Sider, another oil terminus about 40 km. up the coast west of Ras Lanuf.

The US Defense Department said it was preparing a “full range” of military options for Libya, including a no-fly zone.

NATO and EU officials were to weigh up options at the start of a two-day round of talks on Thursday in Brussels. Military officers said a zone could be set up quickly.

A no-fly zone could also help protect civilians who have been caught in the fighting, with scores if not more people reported killed so far in cities such as Zawiyah. A burgeoning humanitarian emergency could hasten a no-fly decision.

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In Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Libya had descended into civil war with increasing numbers of wounded civilians arriving in hospitals in the east.

Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of the US Joint Forces Command, said the American military was probably capable of establishing a no-fly zone over Libya “within a couple of days” if the international community so decided.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made it clear imposing a no-fly zone is a matter for the United Nations and should not be a US-led initiative. Clinton said Thursday the US had stopped working with Libya’s embassy in Washington. “We are suspending our relationship,” she said, “so we expect them to end operations as the embassy of Libya.”

Russia said military intervention would be unacceptable, but acted to help isolate Gaddafi by banning all weapons sales to Libya, effectively suspending major arms contracts with his government.


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