Thursday, September 1, 2011

Libyan Rebels Appeal for Aid in Paris; West Wants Fighting to Fade Soon

Updated 4:15 p.m. edt

Rebel posturing on the ground signaled a shift towards diplomacy over rampant fighting in Libya, a gesture welcomed by the more than 60 nations, alliances and organizations meeting in Paris today.

"The work does not end with the end of an oppressive regime," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told gathering and expanding outgrowth of the Libya Contact Group. "Winning a war offers no guarantee of winning the peace that follows. What happens in the coming days will be critical."

Hearing the message of reconciliation, rebel leaders are trying to coax "the sons of Bani Waled" to turn over Moammar Gadhafi, if the deposed dictator, his son Saif al-Islam and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi are indeed hiding out in the desert town.

The rebels have intelligence strongly suggesting Gadhafi and his entourage are in Bani Waled, a stronghold of Libya's largest tribe, the Warfallah.

The rebels are committed to trying to use kid gloves over an iron fist with the Warfallah. The leaders of the 1-million-strong tribe has long been allied with Gadhafi, but there are fresh opportunities with the city's young fighters who joined the rebel army. 

"We cannot attack this tribe because many of our brigades in Benghazi and Zintan are from Bani Waled. The sons of Bani Walid hold the key," Abdel Majid Mlegta, coordinator of the rebel's war room in Tripoli, told Reuters.

The rebels also backed off a short Saturday deadline for Sirte, Gadhafi's hometown and stronghold of his Gadhadhfa tribe. The rebels will wait-out the city for another week, but they intend to surround Sirte and impose a blockade of supplies over the extended grace period.

"We're not in a rush to get in to Sirte. It has no economic importance and we're not going to lose casualties for it. We can cut supplies and wait, even more than a week," Mohammed Zawawi, spokesman for the Transitional National Council in the eastern rebel capitol Benghazi, told Reuters.

NATO airstrikes took out rocket launchers near Sirte overnight and an ammunition storage facility and a military command post near Bani Walid, the alliance reported.

"We are determined to continued with Nato strikes for as long as Mr Gaddafi and his supporters represent a threat to Libya," Sarkozy said at the "Friends of Libya" summit hosted in Paris.

Russia, meanwhile, recognized the TNC as the legitimate government of Libya just before the conference opened. Russia was a leading opponent of military intervention, abstaining in the UN Security Council vote in March authorizing the NATO-led air campaign.

end update

Rebel Transitional National Council Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil is opening today's largest-ever gathering of the Libyan Contact Group nations, meeting in Paris to plot a road map for post-Gadhafi Libya.

Co-hosts President Nicholas Sarkozy of France and British Prime Minister David Cameron have invited Western partners, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

European Union, Arab leaders like the Emir of Qatar and the King of Jordan, African leaders, and representatives of Russia and China are also on the guest list.

Jalil plans to discuss the TNC's need for money to get the country up and running, and he also intends to present outlines for new constitution and elections within a year and a half.

Western nations also expect to hear TNC plans for avoiding further fighting and bloodshed. TNC allies were hoping for a long-shot deal, but there are no indications negotiations are moving forward.

The timing of the meeting coincides with a deadline Saturday for Gadhafi loyalists to capitulate or face reprisals from rebel forces massing for attack.

Jabril plans to join Sarkozy and Cameron at a press conference at the conclusion of the summit.

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