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13th Apr 2024

Nato and EU prepare for imminent end to Libya conflict

  • Rebels on Monday attacked the Bab al-Azizia military compound in Tripoli (bottom left of picture, surrounded by parkland) amid rumours that Gaddafi is in the building (Photo: Google Earth)

Nato and EU leaders have urged Libyan rebels not to take revenge against Gaddafi loyalists after opposition forces swept into Tripoli over the weekend.

Reports on Monday morning (22 August) said Colonel Gaddafi is still in Tripoli but has lost control of 80 percent of the city after rebel fighters reached the heart of the capital on Sunday.

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A rebel spokesman, Fathi Baja, told Associated Press the Tripoli operation started on Thursday when Nato intensified bombing against Gaddafi targets. Sleeper cells in the capital armed by rebel smugglers launched strikes on Saturday. The main rebel forces covered a 20-kilometre stretch to Tripoli in "a matter of hours" on Sunday with Gaddafi soldiers surrendering en route. They later captured two of his sons - Saif Islam and Mohammed - and began to celebrate in Tripoli's central Green Square.

Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen in a statement on Sunday said "the Gaddafi regime is clearly crumbling" and urged rebels to show restraint for the sake of Libya's future stability.

"Nato is ready to work with the Libyan people and with [the rebel's political wing] the Transitional National Council [TNC] which holds a great responsibility. They must make sure that the transition is smooth and inclusive, that the country stays united, and that the future is founded on reconciliation and respect for human rights."

US President Barack Obama made a similar appeal.

"Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant," he said. "Going forward, the United States will continue to stay in close co-ordination with the TNC. We will continue to insist that the basic rights of the Libyan people are respected."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose warplanes launched the first Western strikes in Libya five months ago on 19 March, urged Gaddafi to lay down arms and hailed the "courage of the TNC fighters and the Libyan people who supported them."

British Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his vacation to return for emergency briefings in London. "It is clear from the scenes we are witnessing in Tripoli that the end is near," Downing Street said in a written communique.

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt noted via Twitter: "Now Libya needs an orderly transition and the building of a proper democratic state. Huge task. UN and others must help."

"We have post-Gadaffi planning going on ... We have a number of scenarios that we have worked in terms of our assistance post-Gadaffi," EU foreign relations spokesman Michael Mann told the Reuters news agency.

A lone pro-Gaddafi statement came from Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, who said "European governments ... are destroying Tripoli" by bombing schools and hospitals in a "massacre" designed to "seize" Libya's oil assets.

Chavez' words echoed Gaddafi spokesman Moussa Ibrahim who said on Sunday that Nato is backing "armed gangs" which have killed over 1,000 people in the capital.

The TNC, based in Benghazi, in the east of Libya, has been recognised by several EU member states and by the US as the country's legitimate government, with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton opening a mini-embassy back in May.

TNC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil, Gaddafi's former justice minister, is considered by analysts as the top candidate to be Libya's first post-war leader. TNC shadow prime minister Mahmoud Jibril and the formerly US-based exile and academic Ali Tarhouni are also in the running.

For his part, Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini tipped Abdel Salam Jalloud, a former Gaddafi insider who fled to Italy, for the job.

"He certainly has all the characteristics ... He will clarify his position when he believes it opportune. I am convinced that many people will recognise him for an important role in the construction of a new Libya," Frattini said.

The events in Tripoli are expected to send ripples across the region amid ongoing violence in Iraq, Israel, Syria and Yemen.

"I think the most miserable person on earth after Muammar Gaddafi is Syria's Bashar Assad. Gaddafi's fall will not only make the Libyan people happy, but will also inspire the Syrian people," Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a United-Arab-Emirates-based academic told Reuters.

"Arabs needed this, they needed another victory - this changes the whole tone in the region after several months of disappointment," Shadi Hamid, from the Washington-based think tank, the Brookings Institution, said.

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