Libya rebels, Gadhafi regime hold indirect talks


BEIRUT — Indirect talks on the future of Libya have
been taking place between representatives of Moammar Gadhafi’s
government and rebels based in the eastern city of Benghazi, a spokesman
for the opposition said Wednesday.

Mahmoud Shammam of the Transitional National Council
said the private mediation efforts, which have yet to bear fruit, have
been held in South Africa and France through intermediaries. He said the
opposition has held firm that Gadhafi and his family be excluded from
any future government, but added it was possible the dictator could live
out his last years in Libya at an isolated location.

“We are engaging in discussion with some people who
have contact with people from the regime,” Shammam told the Los Angeles
Times during a brief interview on the sidelines of a talk he delivered
in the Lebanese capital. “We are contacting them on the mechanism of the
departure of Gadhafi. We don’t negotiate the future of Libya.”

United Nations officials in late May announced
attempts to organize indirect talks between the rebels and Gadhafi, and
Gadhafi’s spokespeople have said talks have been ongoing.

The oil-rich North African state has been torn
asunder by a four-month uprising against Gadhafi’s four-decade rule.
Rebels backed by an increasingly controversial NATO-led bombing campaign
hold sway in the country’s east; in the third-largest city, Misrata;
and in the mountains southwest of the capital, Tripoli, near the
country’s border with Tunisia.

Recently the cash-strapped rebels have been making
the rounds of international capitals, hoping to gain access to Gadhafi’s
frozen assets or to win over international financiers to fund the armed
rebellion and pay bills. “We have not received a cent from the
international community,” other than in-kind donations of food and
weapons, Shammam said at a talk organized by the Carnegie Middle East
Center, a branch of the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace, on whose advisory board he serves.

He also pledged a commitment to a democratic Libya
once Gadhafi is ousted and promised that all 32 transitional authority
executive committee members, including him, would recuse themselves from
political life for four years in any post-Gadhafi government.

Shammam said the authority had pledged to uphold
civil liberties and the rights of women. He spoke of a democratic
flowering in the rebel-controlled east, where he said the number of
newspapers had jumped from four to 84. “We believe in civil society,” he

Shammam downplayed accusations made by Gadhafi and
acknowledged by U.S. officials that some members of al-Qaida may have
infiltrated the rebel east. Islamists, including extremist groups such
as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which fought alongside Osama bin
Laden, would be permitted to take part in politics but only if they
abide by democratic ground rules, Shammam said.

“If they deviate from the democratic process, they
will suffer the same fate as Gadhafi,” he told an audience at Beirut’s
Phoenicia Hotel.

Officials in the West have become nervous about the
legality and mandate of the NATO bombing campaign, whose stated purpose
is to protect civilians from violence by Gadhafi’s security forces. The
campaign has also caused some civilian and rebel deaths and resulted in a
military stalemate.

If the North Atlantic Treaty Organization gets cold
feet, the war will nonetheless continue, Shammam said. “If NATO leaves,
we will fight,” he said. “We don’t have any other choice.”

Shammam said the opposition was ready to negotiate
with “any technocrat or Libyan official from the regime who is not
tainted by blood, to include them in any interim future government which
would lead to elections.”

He said the indirect talks have been inconclusive.
“Gadhafi sends somebody to Paris,” he said. “We, through a third party,
talk with them. And we say to them, let us discuss what is the best way
to discuss Gadhafi and his family’s departure.”

Gadhafi has publicly ruled out stepping aside and one
of his sons has said the government would fight to the death. Shammam
said rebels often receive “conflicting answers” from Gadhafi’s envoys.

“Sometimes we are close and sometimes we are far,” he said. “It depends on the mood of Gadhafi himself.”

The big stumbling block in any talks, he said, is
Gadhafi himself. “He has to accept to leave or he has to accept to be
held in a remote area of Libya,” he said. “We don’t mind an
internationally supervised stay in one of Libya’s oases.”


(c) 2011, Los Angeles Times.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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