Libyan tribal chiefs urge amnesty to all fighters

Libya's tribal chiefs have urged a general amnesty for all fighters engaged in the oil-rich nation's civil war, as Amnesty International said the regime's siege of Misrata could be a war crime.

Rebels, meanwhile, braced for a new ground assault by Moamer Kadhafi's forces on Misrata, the main bastion of the insurgents in western Libya.

The National Conference for Libyan Tribes called in a meeting that ended late Friday for a "general amnesty law which will include all those who were involved in the crisis and took up arms."

That would be "a means of laying the path ahead for a new era of peace and forgiveness," a statement said, without providing details on the law or a timetable for its passage.

But doubts were cast on the proposal, as the statement referred to rebels as "traitors" and pledged not to "abandon" or "forsake" the strongman, whose ouster the insurgents are demanding.

The statement also called for marches to "liberate" rebel-held towns.

"The conference also calls all Libyan tribes neighbouring the towns and cities hijacked by armed groups to move peacefully in popular marches to liberate those hijacked towns, disarming the armed rebels," it said.

Libya is engulfed in a deadly rebellion against Kadhafi triggered by massive protests in mid-February.

The protests were inspired by revolts that toppled long-time autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt and which escalated into war when Kadhafi's troops fired on demonstrators and protesters seized several eastern towns.

The port city of Misrata held by rebels was bracing for a fresh ground assault by Kadhafi forces.

Suleiman Fortiya, a Misrata representative from the rebels' National Transitional Council, said troops were massing in Zliten, outside the city.

"I am sure there will be a lot of fighting on the ground in the future. That is what Misrata is worried about because he (Kadhafi) is doing a big preparation to march on Misrata," Fortiya said.

"This army will be coming from Zliten and most likely will come wearing civilian clothes."

A Misrata resident contacted by telephone said there had been clashes Friday on the outskirts of the city, including in Tumina suburb in the east, Tuya in the west and Giran, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) to the south.

An aid worker said he had heard heavy artillery fire Friday afternoon coming from "deserted neighbourhoods" in the city but was unable to determine which ones exactly.

And Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim has said there will be no let-up in the government's attempts to block off the maritime lifeline to Misrata, which he said is allowing "ships to bring arms to the city and then to evacuate some criminals."

Amnesty International said the two-month siege of Misrata amounted to a possible war crime. That followed comments by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court earlier this week that the Kadhafi regime was committing crimes against humanity.

"The scale of the relentless attacks that we have seen by Kadhafi forces to intimidate the residents of Misrata for more than two months is truly horrifying," said Amnesty senior adviser Donatella Rovera.

"It shows a total disregard for the lives of ordinary people and is in clear breach of international humanitarian law," she said.

"The international community must give all possible support -- financial, legal and practical -- to those bodies trying to bring to justice those responsible for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Misrata and elsewhere in Libya."

Meanwhile, a resident in Zintan said said a number of Grad rockets had struck the rebel-held western town and that fighting was going on in Riayna, a few kilometres to the east.

The mountainous area around Zintan, southwest of Tripoli, was one of the first to rise up against Kadhafi.

On Thursday, the international community decided to step up efforts to help the rebels, with the International Contact Group on Libya agreeing in Rome to provide an emergency humanitarian aid of $250 million (175 million euros) to the rebels.

It also decided that the $60 billion overseas blocked assets of Kadhafi's regime to be used at a later date for aiding the rebels.

The immediate funds made available are far less than the $3 billion sought by the rebels, but their leader, Mahmud Jibril, described it as "a good start." He said $3 billion represents "a six-month budget."

At the Rome meeting, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had also called on the international community to expel diplomats loyal to Kadhafi.

On Friday, France announced it ordered 14 people who served as Libyan diplomats under Kadhafi's regime to leave the country within two days.

Britain has already expelled the Libyan ambassador and ordered two more envoys to leave London.

"Libya still, according to the international law, is one sovereign state and any use of the frozen assets, it's like piracy on the high seas," an angry Kaim said in response to the decisions taken in Rome.

In the Italian capital, meanwhile, there was some mystery about the future of Libya's ambassador there, Abdulfahed Gaddur, after an unsourced newspaper report that the rebels want him out.

"I am with the people, with the rebels and against Kadhafi's regime," he was quoted by Corriere della Sera daily as saying.

Gaddur, who signed a document by regime defectors in February, said "I will stay in my post until a new Libya and its new government make their choices."

[Source: Agence France Presse, Tripoli, 07May11]

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