Muammar Gaddafi, via spokesman Moussa Ibrahim, offers to begin negotiations with Libyan rebels over the formation of a transitional government — but the rebels say they will not talk to Gaddafi unless he surrenders.
Moussa Ibrahim reportedly telephoned the New York headquarters of press agency AP on Saturday night. Ibrahim has been the most public face of the Gaddafi government in recent weeks, regularly addressing television cameras and journalists in Tripoli.
Ibrahim, who said he was calling from Tripoli, claimed he saw Col Gaddafi on Friday to discuss how they would start negotiations for a transitional government. He said the former dictator was still in Libya and his son al-Saadi would lead the talks.
The phone call appears to represent a change of policy by Gaddafi who last week referred to the rebels as “thugs” and “rats” and urged loyalists to continue fighting even as his opponents seized control of Tripoli.
The rebels , however, have said they will not negotiate with Gaddafi, who ruled Libya with an iron fist for 42 years. “No negotiation is taking place with Gaddafi,” Ali Tarhouni, the NTC official in charge of oil and financial matters said.
The rebels now control most of Libya, but Gaddafi remains at large after escaping a siege on his Tripoli compound this week. They are preparing for an assault on Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, 300 miles east of Tripoli, should negotiations with tribal elders for a peaceful surrender fail.
A top Libyan rebel commander said today insurgent forces were 30 kilometres (18 miles) west of Gaddafi’s hometown bastion of Sirte and 100 kilometres away in the east after seizing Bin Jawad.
“We took Bin Jawad today” on the eastern front, and “the thwar (rebel fighters) from Misrata are 30 kilometres from Sirte” in the west, Mohammed al-Fortiya, the rebel commander in Misrata, told AFP.
Rebels deployed in Bin Jawad, a town about 100 miles east of Sirte, said they are waiting for NATO to bomb Scud missile launchers and possible weapons warehouses there.
Fawzi Bukatif, a rebel commander, said attempts to persuade the Sirte loyalists to surrender had so far been fruitless. “We are waiting for the people in Sirte to come out and talk but we’ve got no answer up to now,” he said.
It is thought Gaddafi loyalists could retreat into the desert and try to reach Sabha, another Gaddafi stronghold far to the south. “If they pull south to Sabha, we’ll follow them. We’re determined to clear the whole country,” said Mr Bukatif.
Gaddafi’s offer comes as the rebels discovered a “human slaughterhouse” in southern Tripoli.
Residents who live nearby the site, near the southern Tripoli headquarters of Libya’s most feared military unit, the Khamis Brigade, loyal to Col Gaddafi’s youngest son, say they heard the sounds of shooting and explosions on Tuesday evening.
They were unable to leave their homes to investigate while fighting in the area continued, but on Friday night rebel forces captured the base and drove out the remaining fighters. Yesterday morning, residents and rebel forces moved in to discover the still-warm remains of at least 53 people.
Eight bodies, hands bound, had been left decomposing outside the shed. Inside, the remainder had been burned as they lay, the canisters of petrol still lying in the corners among the bodies, which were still warm.
The horrific find, which could add to evidence in any future war crimes prosecution of the Libyan leader, came as Libyan rebels admitted that they had no concrete information on where he might be hiding.
“We have no factual report about the whereabouts of Gaddafi and his sons,” Mustafa Abdel Jalil, chairman of the rebel National Transitional Council, told a news conference last night. Rebels hunting Gaddafi say the war will not end until the 69-year-old colonel is captured or killed.
Egypt’s state news agency sparked a new round of speculation when it quoted a Libyan rebel source as saying a convoy of six armoured Mercedes cars which crossed from Libya into Algeria may have been carrying Gaddafi. An Algerian government spokesman denied that there had been any such convoy.
The NTC, which has told its fighters not to carry out revenge killings, is trying to assert its authority and restore order in Tripoli but its top officials have yet to move there from their Benghazi headquarters in the east.
The capital was gripped by growing humanitarian difficulties with some parts experiencing their fifth day without water. Power was again interrupted across much of Tripoli.
“There are widespread shortages of fuel, food and medical supplies, particularly in the Nafusa Mountains and Tripoli,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in New York.
Tripoli’s supply problems have worsened, even though Mr Abdel Jalil said on Thursday his forces had discovered huge stockpiles of food and medicine in the capital that would eliminate any shortfalls.