Wed, Jul 20, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Qaddafi envoys hold talks with US

FACE TO FACE:US officials said they insisted Qaddafi had to go. The Libyan spokesman said the talks were meant to repair relations marred by misinformation


A rebel fighter smokes a cigarette near the front line in Brega, Libya, on Monday.

Warning: Smoking can damage your health

Photo: Reuters

Representatives of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s embattled government held face-to-face talks with US officials in neighboring Tunisia over the weekend, a Libyan government official said, describing the meeting as a first step in opening dialogue.

A US Department of State official confirmed on Monday that the meeting took place, but said it was only to deliver a clear and firm message that Qaddafi must step down. The US official said it was not a negotiating session and no future meetings were planned.

The talks came after Friday’s decision by the US and more than 30 other nations meeting in Istanbul to recognize the eastern-based -rebels fighting Qaddafi’s government as Libya’s legitimate representatives, added the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the meeting publicly.

Libyan spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told reporters in Tripoli that the talks were held on Saturday in Tunisia, but he refused to say which officials took part.

“This is a first step and we want to take further steps,” he said. “We don’t want to be stuck in the past; we want to move forward all the time,” he told reporters in the corridors of the hotel where foreign journalists are required to reside.

He described it as a “first-step dialogue” to see about repairing relations between the two countries, which he said had been damaged by misinformation.

The US was an active participant in NATO airstrikes against Libyan forces that began on March 19 and were authorized under a UN mandate to protect Libyan civilians from Qaddafi’s advancing forces.

The US later turned over command of the air campaign to NATO and now plays a largely logistical role in the continuing airstrikes.

Fighting continued on Monday around the eastern oil port of Brega. A reporter on the scene witnessed rocket duels between the opposing sides and the thick black smoke of burning oil terminals blanketing the sky.

In Tripoli, Ibrahim claimed that more than 500 rebels had been killed in five days of failed assaults against the strategic town. Rebels, however, have only reported a handful of casualties and maintain fighting continues in their attempt to take the oil terminal on the front lines of the civil war.

The government spokesman said the rebels attacked by sea using boats and along a desert highway and the main coastal road, but were repelled in every case.

“In these waves of attacks, unfortunately, 520 of the rebel forces have been killed in these five days,” he said. “This huge number came because of the lack of experience on the rebels’ part.”

Rebels have reported not more than two dozen dead in the last several days and scores wounded, but nowhere near the amount claimed by Ibrahim. They also maintain they have partial control of the city.

“Do not believe the rumors, lies and misinformation spread widely by the rebels; we have complete control,” Ibrahim said, adding that they would defend the city and its oil to the death.

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