A Libyan minister told Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou on Sunday that Tripoli wanted fighting to end, while a Turkish ship evacuated wounded from the besieged city of Misrata, leaving thousands more pleading to be rescued.
With rebels and Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s forces seemingly at a stalemate in eastern Libya and civilians trapped by fighting in the west, diplomatic efforts have intensified to seek an end to the war.
Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi flew to Athens to convey a message from Qaddafi.
Obeidi told Papandreou that Libya wanted the fighting to end, a Greek government official said.
“It seems that the Libyan authorities are seeking a solution,” Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas told reporters.
He said Obeidi planned to travel on to Malta and Turkey.
Greece has enjoyed good relations with Qaddafi for a number of years. Papandreou has been talking by telephone with officials in Tripoli as well as the leaders of Qatar, Turkey and Britain over the last two days.
The UN-mandated military intervention that began on March 19 was meant to protect civilians caught up in fighting between Qaddafi’s forces and the rebels.
Underlining the desperate plight of civilians trapped in western Libya, a Turkish ship that sailed into Misrata to rescue 250 wounded had to leave in hurry after crowds pressed forward on the dockside hoping to escape.
“It’s a very hard situation ... We had to leave early,” Turkish consular official Ali Akin said after the ship stopped to pick up more wounded in the rebel stronghold Benghazi.
Turkey’s foreign minister ordered the ship into Misrata after it spent four days waiting in vain for permission to dock.
It arrived under cover from 10 Turkish air force F-16 fighter planes and two navy frigates, Akin said.
Neither Qaddafi’s troops nor the disorganized rebel force have been able to gain the upper hand in eastern Libya, despite Western air power in effect aiding the insurgents.
Both sides have become bogged down in fighting over the eastern oil town of Brega, a sparsely populated settlement spread over more than 25km.
Yet Western countries, wary of becoming too entangled in another war after campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, have ruled out sending ground troops to help rebels push west — which could allow them to relieve Misrata and move on to Tripoli.
That in turn has raised talk of diplomatic efforts to try to ease the plight of civilians either caught up in fighting or facing shortages of food and fuel in the west.
“Various scenarios are being discussed,” one diplomat said. “Everyone wants a quick solution.”
He cautioned that any solution that led to Qaddafi handing over power to one of his sons might lead to a partition of Libya — a possibility Western countries ruled out before they launched military strikes.
In another strand of diplomatic contacts, a team of British diplomats headed by British Ambassador to Rome Christopher Prentice arrived in Libya to meet rebel leaders in Benghazi.
A British foreign ministry statement said the team would seek more information about the rebels’ Interim National Council, “its aims and more broadly what is happening in Libya.”
The rebels, meanwhile, named a “crisis team” with Qaddafi’s former interior minister as their armed forces chief of staff and attempted to stiffen an enthusiastic but untrained and ill-disciplined volunteer army by putting professional soldiers at its head.
“We are reorganizing our ranks. We have formed our first brigade. It is entirely formed from ex--military defectors and people who’ve come back from retirement,” former air force major Jalid al-Libie told reporters in Benghazi.
He said he could not reveal numbers, adding: “It’s quality that matters.”
Outside Brega, better rebel discipline was already in evidence on Sunday. The less disciplined -volunteers and journalists were being kept several kilometers east of the front. The insurgents were also deploying heavier weapons.
Without a backbone of regular forces, the lightly armed volunteer caravan has spent days dashing back and forth along the coast road on Brega’s outskirts, scrambling away in pick-ups when Qaddafi’s forces attack with rockets.
NATO has conducted at least 547 sorties since it took command of Libya operations on March 31, including more than 200 strike missions. It also has 21 ships patrolling the Mediterranean Sea to enforce an arms embargo.
In the west, Qaddafi’s forces continued to besiege Misrata, shelling a building that had been used to treat wounded, a resident said, killing one person and wounding more.
Misrata, Libya’s third city, rose up with other towns against Qaddafi’s rule in mid-February, but it is now surrounded by government troops after a violent crackdown put an end to most protests elsewhere in the west of the country.
See LIBYAN on page 9
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