Libyan rebel leader in Paris, conflict deadlocked
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Last Updated: Wednesday, April 20, 2011, 15:39
  
Benghazi: French President Nicolas Sarkozy will meet the head of Libya's rebels, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, in Paris on Wednesday, as Western powers struggle to break a deadlock in the two-month conflict.

Fighting between Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces and rebels appears to have stalemated on a frontline just west of Ajdabiyah in eastern Libya.

Misrata, the rebels' only major stronghold in the west, has been besieged for more than seven weeks.

Wednesday's meeting will be the first time that Sarkozy, the first foreign leader to recognize the rebels' national transition council, will meet Jalil, who was formerly Gaddafi's justice minister.

Jalil is expected to ask that NATO increase air strikes and he could supply a list of names of officials in Tripoli with whom the opposition would be willing to work if Gaddafi departs, a source close to the Libyan opposition said on Tuesday.

Sarkozy's office said the talks would focus on how to bring about a democratic transition in Libya.

Libya's foreign minister, Abdul Ati al Obeidi, was quoted on Wednesday as saying that the government could hold elections, including on Gaddafi's future, if Western air strikes stopped.

"If the bombing stopped, al Obeidi said, after six months the could be an election supervised by the UN," BBC radio reported.

"The foreign minister said the election could cover any issue raised by all Libyans, anything could go on the table, including, he implied, the future of Gaddafi as leader." Al Obeidi also criticized Britain's decision to send military officers to advise Libyan rebels.

"He said that would only prolong the fighting," the BBC said.

Britain said on Tuesday it would send military officers to advise the rebels on organization and communications but not to train or arm fighters. France also says it is opposed to putting troops on the ground in Libya.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Western air support was allowing the Libyan opposition to refuse to sit down to negotiate.

"The U.N. Security Council never aimed to topple the Libyan regime," he said in Belgrade. The United Nations appealed for a ceasefire in Misrata, saying at least 20 children had been killed in attacks by besieging government forces.

Libya's third city, where hundreds are believed to have been killed by shelling and sniper fire by Gaddafi's forces, is the main focus of efforts to protect civilians caught up in Gaddafi's bid to put down a rebellion against his 41-year rule.

Nine weeks after the rebellion broke out, inspired by other uprisings against autocratic Arab rulers, the NATO-led air campaign to prevent attacks on civilians has failed to halt the bombardment.

CHILDREN KILLED, WOUNDED

The toll on children in Misrata was bad and likely to get worse without a ceasefire, the United Nations said.

"We have at least 20 verified child deaths and many more injuries due to shrapnel from mortars and tanks and bullet wounds," Marixie Mercado, of the UN children's fund UNICEF, told a news briefing in Geneva.

Aid groups say food, medicines and other basic items are in short supply in the city, and tens of thousands of casualties and foreign workers are waiting at the port to be evacuated.

The UN World Food Program said it had, with Libyan consent, sent eight trucks from Tunisia with 240 tons of food -- enough for 50,000 people for 30 days -- to towns in the west including Zawiyah, Zintan and Nalut that are mostly under Gaddafi's control after uprisings were crushed.

Libyan officials say they are fighting armed militias with ties to al Qaeda bent on destroying the country and deny that government troops are shelling Misrata. The rebels, who draw their support from a broad sector of Libyan society, say they want to set up a democratic, secular system with free elections.

Bureau Report


First Published: Wednesday, April 20, 2011, 15:39


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