Libyans eye Gaddafi bastions, stability

Libyan forces failed to convince Muammar Gaddafi loyalists on Sunday to give up one of their last strongholds without a fight, raising the prospect of an assault on the town of Bani Walid.

Outside the desert town, a National Transitional Council (NTC) negotiator said talks with tribal leaders were over.

"As chief negotiator, I have nothing to offer right now. From my side, negotiations are finished," Abdallah Kanshil, a negotiator for the interim council said at a checkpoint some 60 km (38 miles) outside Bani Walid. "We will leave this for the field commanders to decide, for the NTC to decide what to do next. I urge Gaddafi people to leave the town alone."

No comment was available from the other side.

Kanshil said all NTC proposals put forward on Sunday were rejected. "They said they don't want to talk, they are threatening everyone who moves. They are putting snipers on high rise buildings and inside olive groves, they have a big fire force. We compromised a lot at the last minute," he said.

He said he believed that two of Gaddafi's sons, including Mutassim, and his spokesman Moussa Ibrahim were in Bani Walid.

Tribal elders from Bani Walid came out to negotiate after NTC spokesmen had said several times over the previous day that talks were over and they were about to attack. There has been speculation from NTC officials that members of Gaddafi's family, even the former Libyan leader himself, may be hiding there.

Earlier on Sunday NTC negotiator Abdul Azil said NATO-backed NTC forces were just 10 km from Bani Walid and inching forward, ready to attack what he said were an estimated 100 pro-Gaddafi fighters there if necessary.

"We are waiting for the order for our commanders to go into the city. We have told them we are coming. Everyone should stay at home. Hopefully it will be done without bloodshed," he said, as warplanes of the Western alliance roared overhead.

In Tripoli, life was returning to normal after last month's fighting and last week's Muslim holiday. Traffic was heavy as fuel supplies improved. Cafes were busy and offices opened.

NTC officials announced plans to bring their heavily-armed fighters under control and try to integrate thousands of them into the police force and find jobs for others.

"We only need the revolutionaries for the first month. We have a plan we will announce today to include 3,000 of the revolutionaries in the interior ministry who will be trained and will work in national security," interim Interior Minister Ahmad Darat told reporters.

"The rest of them work in business or are builders etc -- they don't want to be in the police. They will give up their weapons. It's just a matter of time and organization."

Officials said there would also be retraining and reintegration schemes for those who fought for Gaddafi.

The disintegration of Gaddafi's rule after a six-month war has left a security vacuum in Libya, with no state security forces, rebel fighters who are not part of any formal structure and huge quantities of unsecured weapons.

In a field outside Tripoli, Reuters journalists saw a Scud tactical missile, loaded on its launch truck and pointing toward the capital, that had been sitting unguarded for days after Gaddafi soldiers fled. [ID:nL5E7K40G2]

The proliferation of weapons in Libya is a serious issue and the new rulers need to establish a proper police force and army to replace the hundreds of armed groups who patrol the streets, the United Nations Secretary-General's special adviser on Libya said.

"It's a matter of moving from the current situation in which there are many people with weapons who are fighting in this conflict to one where there is a single public security force and the kind of proper state army that didn't exist in Libya in the past," the adviser, Ian Martin, said on a visit to Tripoli.

Gaddafi "Safe"

After chasing out Gaddafi from his Tripoli compound last month, Libya's new rulers are trying to control the entire country and restore normality.

But in an early sign of divisions, Ismail al-Salabi, a Libyan Islamist military commander who helped defend Benghazi against Gaddafi's forces called on the interim cabinet to resign because they are "remnants of the old regime." [ID:nL5E7K40C8]

A spokesman for Gaddafi, who has been in hiding since his foes seized Tripoli on August 23, has dismissed talk of surrender and said powerful tribal leaders were still loyal to him.

"He's in the country," Moussa Ibrahim told Reuters on Friday in a call from an undisclosed location. "He's in a safe place surrounded by many people who are prepared to protect him."

Ibrahim, who said he did not know exactly where Gaddafi was, dismissed suggestions that Bani Walid was ready to surrender. He said he himself had been moving around a "southern suburb of Tripoli" with Gaddafi's son and heir-apparent Saif al-Islam.

As they hunt for Gaddafi, NTC fighters announced they had arrested Ahmed Own, who had been a senior military commander close to the fugitive strongman. The Tripoli representative of the Misrata military council said he was arrested at his home on Sunday morning and was now being held in a secure location. They showed journalists amateur video footage of Own being detained.

"The suspect has been treated in a humane way ... he was not harmed in any way," the Misrata council said in a statement.

Closing in on Sirte

Anti-Gaddafi forces have also closed in on the deposed leader's birthplace in the coastal city of Sirte.

"There are ongoing negotiations regarding Sirte between the elders and various tribes and the free Libya forces surrounding Sirte," NTC military spokesman Ahmed Bani told a news conference in Benghazi. "The time is coming when talk is done with and we will enforce our will upon liberating the city of Sirte."

Independent accounts from Sirte, Bani Walid and Sabha, deep in the Sahara desert, have not been available as communications appear to be largely cut off.

The UN's senior humanitarian official in Libya said he was worried about humanitarian problems in the few pockets of territory where Gaddafi loyalists are still in control.

"We are looking very closely at the situation in Sirte," Panos Moumtzis, UN humanitarian coordinator for Libya, said. "We are preocuppied about the protection of civilians in this area. We understand that there is a dialogue taking place. We would really like to see a peaceful solution as fast as possible."

"It would be good to avoid any further displacement or any further humanitarian crisis on the ground."

To the east of Sirte, whose resistance still effectively divides the country in two between Benghazi and Tripoli, fighters were also dug in and, they said, ready to advance.

"We are awaiting the green light from the council," said Naji al-Maghrabi, commander of the "Omar al-Mukhtar Brigade," named for a Libyan hero of battles against Italian colonialists.

"If they tell us, 'Move into Sirte now,' we will."

One fighter, Belqassem Souliman, said: "They have no way out but to surrender or die."

[Source: By Maria Golovnina and Mohammed Abbas, Reuters, North of Bani Walid and Tripoli, 04Sep11]

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