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Libya: Talks fail over surrender of pro-Gaddafi forces in Bani Walid stronghold

Opposition fighters stationed outside the town are waiting for the green light to launch a final assault on one of the last Gaddafi strongholds.

A rebel fighter at a checkpoint near Bani Walid on Sunday.
A rebel fighter at a checkpoint near Bani Walid on Sunday.
Image: Alexandre Meneghini/AP/Press Association Images

Updated 7pm

A LIBYAN REBEL spokesman says negotiations held primarily with Muammar Gaddafi’s chief spokesman over the peaceful surrender of a regime stronghold have failed.

Abdullah Kanshil, a rebel negotiator outside Bani Walid, told reporters Sunday that opposition fighters stationed outside the town are waiting for the green light to launch a final assault on the town.

He says talks with Moussa Ibrahim have failed because Ibrahim wants the rebels to disarm.

Earlier…

LIBYAN REBELS ARE poised to attack one of Muammar Gaddafi’s remaining strongholds, but their military spokesman said today he expected the town’s tribal leaders to surrender rather than see their divided followers fight one another.

Rebels control most of Libya and are moving forward with setting up a new government, but they might hold off on declaring victory until Gaddafi is caught and his remaining strongholds are defeated.

Gaddafi and his staunchest allies have been on the run since the fall of the capital late last month. Loyalists have entrenched themselves in several towns, including besieged Bani Walid, some 90 miles southeast of Tripoli.

Colonel Ahmed Bani, the rebel’s military spokesman based in Benghazi, said members of the tribe that dominates Bani Walid, the Warfala, are divided over whether to join the rebels. He said the Warfala to surrender to avoid fighting among one another.

Saif al-Islam

“They will give up at the end because they are cousins and they don’t want to spill each other’s blood,” he said.

Bani added people in Bani Walid have told the rebels one of Gaddafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam, had fled to Bani Walid soon after Tripoli fell, but left recently for fear townspeople would hand him over to the rebels.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi once had been expected to succeed his father, and was indicted alongside him on international charges of crimes against humanity in their attempt to quash the rebellion that broke out in February.

Last week, a man claiming to be Saif al-Islam Gaddafi made an appeal from hiding that was carried by a Syrian-based TV station, urging his father’s supporters to keep up the fight against the rebels even if it means “we are going to die on our land.”

Rebel officials have given conflicting statements on where they believe the elder Gaddafi is hiding. Bani Walid, Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte and the loyalist town of Sabha, deep in the Libyan desert, have been mentioned.

Take by force

Rebels continued to put the pressure on Bani Walid, circling the town and saying they are ready to take it by force. Thousands of rebel fighters have converged on Bani Walid in recent days, with the closest forces about 10 miles from the town center.

“Negotiations are over, and we are waiting for orders” to attack, said Mohammed al-Fassi, a rebel commander at a staging area about 45 miles from Bani Walid.

“We wanted to do this without bloodshed, but they took advantage of our timeline to protect themselves.”

Al-Fassi said more Gaddafi loyalists have moved into Bani Walid from the south, but did not know how many.

The one-million-strong Warfala make up one-sixth of Libya’s population. Muammar Gaddafi said in an audio message last week that the Warfala would be among the tribes defending him to the death.

But Bani Walid also has a history of opposition to Gaddafi. Western diplomats in Libya and opposition leaders abroad reported in 1993 that the air force had put down an uprising by army units in Misrata and Bani Walid. They said many officers were executed and arrested.

About the author:

Associated Press

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