The regime of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi said yesterday it was in contact with members of the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) as the rebels tried to quash rumors about the mysterious death of their army chief.
In Tripoli, Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaaim said Qaddafi’s government was in contact with members of the rebel NTC, but denied rumors of contacts with General Abdel Fatah Yunis, who was killed on Thursday.
“There are contacts with Mahmud Jibril [No. 2 in the NTC], and [Ali] Essawy [in charge of external relations], [religious leader Ali] Sallabi and others,” Kaaim told a news conference.
On talk of recent contact between the regime and Yunis, Kaaim said: “He was in contact with the government during his visit in Italy two months ago. Since then, we had no contact with him despite [the fact that] we still have other contact with other members of NTC, but not with Abdel Fatah.”
The rebels, who have frequently denied having any direct negotiations with the Qaddafi regime, sought on Saturday to stamp out rumors by providing details on Yunis’s killing and tightening security in their Benghazi bastion.
NTC leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil said Yunis had been summoned from the front by a committee of four judges with the knowledge of the NTC’s executive committee, the rebels’ de facto government.
“The recall of General Fatah Yunis from Ajdabiya was based on a warrant that was issued with the knowledge of the executive committee” of the NTC, he told reporters. “I don’t know why this arrest [warrant] was issued and we don’t know who was present at the meeting when the decision was made ... or on what basis the decision was made.”
On Thursday, Jalil said Yunis, linchpin of Qaddafi’s regime before defecting to the rebels fighting to oust the strongman since February, had been killed by an armed group after being summoned to answer questions on military matters.
On Saturday, Jalil said Yunis died after being shot in the chest and head.
He ordered all brigades — or katibas — operating in Benghazi to disband and come under the fold of the interior ministry to boost security and unity.
Military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani said the judges who summoned Yunis for questioning did not have the authority do so and that the defense minister had written a letter recalling the arrest warrant.
In Zuwaytina, the Union of Revolutionary Forces late on Saturday dismissed reports that Yunis was a traitor killed by his own people for providing strategic military -information to Qaddafi’s regime.
“Anybody can say anything, but all this big talk needs proof. The chief of staff was always with us from the beginning,” said Fawzi Bukatif, spokesman for the Union of Revolutionary Forces and head of the Feb. 17 brigade.
The Union of Revolutionary Forces, formed on July 13, provides a unified command structure for fighters from volunteer brigades, who now come under the authority of the rebels’ defense ministry.
Bukatif called Yunis’s murder a “cowardly act” and said it took place without the knowledge or consent of the Union of Revolutionary Forces.
He said brigades not affiliated with the union had arrested Yunis.
Bukatif said that the Obeida Ibn al-Jarah brigade, which an NTC member had mentioned as a -potential culprit, was not part of the rebel body and was no longer fighting on the front near the strategic oil hub of Brega.