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Seeking sanctuary

August 31, 2011

Libya's interim council has given forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi an ultimatum to surrender within four days or face military force. Meanwhile, a diplomatic rift is developing with neighboring Algeria.

Rebels holding weapons
The rebels have massed about 100 kilometers outside SirteImage: picture alliance / dpa

Forces loyal to fugitive Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi have been given a four-day deadline to surrender, otherwise Libya's interim rulers say they will use force.

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the chairman of the National Transitional Council (NTC), said Libyan forces intend to take over central and southern Libya as well as Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte.

"By Saturday, if there are no peaceful indications for implementing this, we will decide this matter militarily. We do not wish to do so but we cannot wait longer," Abdul-Jalil told a news conference in the eastern city of Benghazi on Tuesday.

Anti-Gadhafi forces have massed to the east and west of Sirte but stopped short of an all-out assault in hopes of arranging a negotiated surrender.

Assets unfrozen

Abdul-Jalil added that after a meeting with NATO on Monday in Qatar, the NTC would not be calling on the military alliance to keep peace from now on.

Boys holding water bottles
Fighting may have lessened in Tripoli, but essential supplies are running lowImage: dapd

"We do not need any forces to maintain security, be it international, Muslim or other," he said. "We are betting on our youths and we are certain our bet will pay off."

On Tuesday the UN sanctions committee on Libya approved an application to release 1.6 billion pounds (1.8 billion euros; $2.6 billion) in seized assets to buy emergency aid.

Germany has also asked to release about one billion euros in seized assets, while France wants to unfreeze about five billion euros. This is also to help buy humanitarian aid and keep essential services going in Libya.

Diplomatic tensions with Algeria

Meanwhile, the NTC has issued a statement demanding the extradition of several members of the Gadhafi family who fled to neighboring Algeria on Monday.

Gadhafi's wife, Safia, and three of their children, accompanied by a handful of other relatives, crossed the border in a bid to escape potential retribution as the rebels consolidated their hold on the last remaining pockets of resistance from Gadhafi loyalists.

The NTC labeled Algeria's harboring of the Gadhafi family as an act of hostility, potentially opening a diplomatic rift with Algiers.

"We have promised to provide a just trial to all those criminals and therefore we consider this an act of aggression," NTC spokesman Mahmoud Shamman told news agency Reuters. "We are warning anybody not to shelter Gadhafi and his sons. We are going after them … to find them and arrest them."

Algeria, for its part, reportedly said it accepted the Gadhafi relations on humanitarian grounds. Gadhafi's daughter, Aisha, gave birth to a baby girl just hours after crossing into the country.

Safija Gadhafi
Safia, Gadhafi's second wife, arrived in Algeria on MondayImage: dpa

The Algerian Foreign Ministry notified UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the president of the UN Security Council and Mahmoud Jibril, the NTC's second-in-command, of the family's arrival on Monday.

A statement was also broadcast by Algeria's official APS news agency.

Algeria is the only one of Libya's North African neighbors which has yet to recognize the NTC, now Libya's de facto government after Gadhafi's compound in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, was overrun by rebels last week.

Rebel claims

The extradition calls came as rebel officials claimed to have killed Gadhafi's son Khamis, the commander of the feared 32nd brigade, in clashes outside Tripoli over the weekend.

"One of the rebel leaders confirmed to me that Khamis was killed somewhere near Tarhouna, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Tripoli," NTC justice and human rights commissioner Mohammed al-Alagi told news agency AFP.

A commander of the Tripoli brigade of the rebel army earlier claimed to have confirmed that Khamis was badly wounded in a clash near Bani Walid and Tarhouna. According to the commander, Khamis was taken to a hospital where he subsequently died and was then buried in the area.

A Libyan rebel fighter stamps on a portrait of Moammar Gadhafi
Gadhafi's whereabouts remain unknownImage: AP

On Tuesday, a NATO military spokesman said the reported death of Khamis was nothing more than "a rumor."

Last week, rebels claimed to have captured Gadhafi's son Seif al-Islam. However, he later made an appearance in front of journalists at a Tripoli hotel, proving the rebels' claims false.

Battle for Sirte

As his immediate family further fractures, Gadhafi's whereabouts remained unknown. There was widespread speculation that he could be holed up in his hometown of Sirte.

Thousands of rebel fighters have massed 100 kilometers from the city as they prepared to invade. The battle for Sirte could be the last major battle for control of Libya's coast. The city is seen as the final Gadhafi stronghold. After Sirte, rebels say they will then focus attention on Libya's southern desert town of Sabha.

Rebel leaders have entered into negotiations for the town's surrender, but Gadhafi forces are reportedly urging residents to fight.

NATO warplanes have continued strikes against military positions and ammunition deposits in and around Sirte.

An NTC spokesman said it was now "a waiting game in favor of the liberating forces."

Author: Darren Mara, Catherine Bolsover (Reuters, dpa, AFP)
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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