Kuwait will officially recognize Libyan rebel forces within days, its foreign minister said yesterday, making it the second Arab state after Qatar to formally acknowledge the group. “We have already recognized them in a practical sense and officially recognizing them will come in a few days,” Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad Al-Salem Al-Sabah told Reuters in the UAE capital. Last month, Qatar became the first Arab country to recognise Libya’s rebels as the people’s legitimate representative.
Meanwhile, Libyan rebels yesterday dismissed any possible peace deal which might see Muammar Gaddafi’s son left in charge of the war-wracked country. Rebel fighters also made a new attempt to recapture Brega, advancing to the outskirts of the oil refinery town only to be forced back under artillery fire, as Gaddafi’s envoy arrived in Turkey for talks on a possible “roadmap”. Former colonial power Italy announced it was joining France and Qatar in recognising the rebels’ Transitional National Council, and said it would send ships and planes to evacuate the wounded from besieged Misrata city.
Loyalist forces were also attacking oilfields in the remote south that the insurgents were hoping to use to fund their month-old revolt. The rebels insisted Gaddafi’s entire family must leave Libya before there could be a truce amid reports the regime is pursuing a ceasefire and his sons want to oversee a transition. After Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou met Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Abdelati Laabidi on the first leg of his mission, Athens said Gaddafi’s regime was “looking for a solution”.
The New York Times had reported that two of Gaddafi’s sons were offering to oversee a transition to a constitutional democracy that would include their father’s removal from power. But the rebels swiftly rejected any deal involving the Gaddafi family. “Gaddafi and his sons have to leave before any diplomatic negotiations can take place,” the spokesman of the rebels’ Transitional National Council, Shamseddin Abdulmelah told AFP. He said the regime had lost any right to talk of a negotiated exit after it continued to pound Misrata, 214 km east of Tripoli.
Rebels in Misrata have again asked for support from the international coalition to counter the heavy artillery of Gaddafi’s forces who have bombarded the city for a month. “Gaddafi’s forces will not stop bombing the city. The planes of NATO, whose mission is to protect civilians, do not even fly over the region,” a spokesman for the rebels said on condition of anonymity. “Twelve thousand families have been forced to evacuate their homes, causing an alarming humanitarian situation,” and dozens of people have been “kidnapped” by Gaddafi loyalists, the rebel spokesman said.
For more than 40 days the insurgents have defended Misrata, Libya’s third largest city, as it is besieged and pounded by Gaddafi’s troops. The rebels say that more than 200 people have been killed in the fighting there. Gaddafi’s forces besieging Misrata have been targeted by air strikes since March 19 under a UN mandate to use “all necessary measures” to protect civilians, but the siege has not been broken. A Turkish aid ship which arrived in Benghazi on Sunday carrying more than 250 patients it had picked up in Misrata left early yesterday for the Turkish port of Cesme. Those on board, many torn apart by shrapnel and bullets, told of a city under lockdown that has gone for weeks without electricity or running water, where snipers have emptied the centre, and mortar rounds and rockets rain down on residents huddled inside their homes.
Gaddafi envoy Laabidi travelled to Ankara on Monday for talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, with an eye to drawing up a possible ceasefire and a “roadmap” of political reform. “Both sides have told us that they have certain thoughts on a ceasefire. We will talk to the two sides and see whether there is any common ground,” a senior Turkish foreign ministry official told AFP on condition of anonymity. Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, however, dismissed the diplomatic overtures concerning a ceasefire from Gaddafi’s regime.
He said the proposals were “not credible” after Rome yesterday recognised the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) as its sole interlocutor. Britain said it was not pursuing “an exit strategy for Gaddafi” but a “genuine ceasefire”. “There have been lots of reports of envoys and of the regime reaching out in a number of ways… We have been very clear throughout about what the next step should be and that needs to be a genuine ceasefire and an end to violence,” a spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said.
Cameron himself made a surprise visit to the southern Italian Gioia del Colle base hosting British jets enforcing the no-fly zone, and announced four more Tornado warplanes for the Libya mission. He said the British jets had saved “literally thousands of lives in Benghazi and elsewhere in Libya”. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in London earlier yesterday that the first meeting of the international contact group on Libya will take place next week in the Qatari capital Doha.
Rebel fighters came under heavy shelling from Gaddafi’s forces as they pushed towards Brega in a new bid to take the refinery town, forcing them to beat a hasty but measured retreat, an AFP correspondent reported. The battle for the town is fast reaching stalemate. Gaddafi’s men will not risk advancing farther into rebel-held territory through the open desert, where they are easy targets for NATO air strikes. But the rebels do not have the weaponry to counter the artillery the loyalists have inside the town.
The US military had planned to begin withdrawing its warplanes and Tomahawk missiles from the air campaign at the weekend as NATO allies were to take the lead in bombing Gaddafi’s forces. But the Pentagon announced on Sunday that the US involvement would continue through yesterday at NATO’s request, because of “recent poor weather in Libya”. Rebels said yesterday that Gaddafi’s troops had attacked an oilfield in the remote south that the insurgents hope to use to fund their month-old revolt against his regime. A TNC spokeswoman said the attack had damaged a diesel storage tank at the Mislah oil facility, without providing further details. Agencies