(See EXTRA for more on the Libyan conflict.)
Aug. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Libyan rebel leaders expressed growing confidence that Muammar Qaddafi’s days on the run are numbered.
Mustafa Abdel Jalil, chairman of the rebel National Transitional Council, gave Qaddafi’s forces until Sept. 3 to surrender or face attack and said members of the former leader’s government would receive fair trials.
“We have a good idea where he is,” Ali Tarhouni, a rebel council minister, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying yesterday. “We don’t have any doubt that we will catch him.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday that rebel forces have control over most of Tripoli since the Qaddafi family fled, the German press agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported.
“We are now looking for a quick conclusion of the conflict and sufferings of the Libyan people,” Ban told the UN Security Council, which met yesterday. The council approved the U.K’s request to release $1.55 billion of frozen Libyan banknotes held there.
Rebel leaders also demanded that Algeria return Qaddafi’s wife, Safia, daughter Aisha and two sons, Hannibal and Mohammed, who crossed the border into Algeria on Aug. 29.
Algeria closed part of the border with Libya after their arrival, according to the privately owned newspaper El Watan. The Algerian Foreign Ministry said yesterday that Aisha had given birth in Algeria.
The coastal city of Sirte and the southern town of Sabha are the key remaining bastions of Qaddafi loyalists, Abdel Jalil, the rebel council chairman, said yesterday in a televised press conference broadcast from Benghazi.
“The entry to Sirte and southern towns of Libya should be as peaceful as possible to avoid more bloodshed and destruction,” he said. “If there are no indications for conducting this peacefully, we can act decisively to end this situation in a military manner, but we do not wish to do so.”
Sirte, Qaddafi’s hometown, is the last major coastal city still resisting rebel forces, which are backed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The opposition is seeking to capture Qaddafi and his closest aides, including son Saif al- Islam, to consolidate its gains and announce a new interim government after entering Tripoli, the capital, last week.
“We want the wise people of these cities to cooperate,” Abdel Jalil said. “We have been in contact with the elders and the wise men of these cities.”
NATO, which has supported the rebels by bombing pro-Qaddafi targets, will continue operations in the North African country as long as necessary, spokeswoman Oana Lungescu told reporters in Brussels.
“It looks as if we are nearly there, but we’re not there yet,” she said.
One of Qaddafi’s sons, Khamis, a military commander, was killed in a NATO air strike southeast of Tripoli, Sky News reported, citing a man claiming to have been Khamis Qaddafi’s bodyguard. A rebel official, speaking on the condition he not be named, said the deaths of Khamis and Qaddafi’s top security adviser, Abdullah al-Senussi, hadn’t been confirmed.
Balance of Strength
“The Qaddafi regime is collapsing and rapidly losing control on multiple fronts,” Colonel Roland Lavoie, spokesman for NATO’s Operation Unified Protector, told reporters. “The Tripoli region is essentially freed.”
Columns of rebel units in armed pickup trucks, some towing artillery and wheeled anti-aircraft guns, left Tripoli Aug. 29 and headed east to Misrata in preparation for an advance on Sirte.
Pro-Qaddafi forces committed possible war crimes in the battle for Misrata, Physicians for Human Rights said in a report released yesterday.
Those crimes include murder, torture and rape, the Boston- based group said, citing interviews with 54 residents of Misrata and its surrounding villages that it said were conducted in June, shortly after rebel forces captured the western coastal city.
“The rule of law must be the bedrock of a new and free Libya,” the group said. The transitional council “must ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice and held accountable.”
Jalil said the transitional council will try members of Qaddafi’s government in the courts.
“The safety and security of everyone is our responsibility,” he said. “We will provide fair trials for each of them, but we will not deal lightly with anyone who poses a threat to the revolution.”
Rebel officials have said that resuming oil production, halted by the conflict, will be a top priority. Oil prices rose to their highest level in almost four weeks in New York. The price of crude oil for October delivery rose by $1.63, or 1.9 percent, to $88.90 a barrel, the highest settlement since Aug. 3 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
--With assistance from Caroline Alexander in London, Mariam Fam in Cairo and David Lerman in Washington. Editors: Terry Atlas, Jim Rubin.
To contact the reporter on this story: Christopher Stephen in Misrata, Libya at email@example.com
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