|Page (1) of 1 - 09/01/11||email article||print page|
Libyan rebels capture Gadhafi's foreign minister in hunt for senior regime officials
TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) ' Libyan rebels hunting senior figures of the ousted regime have captured Moammar Gadhafi's foreign minister, a rebel official said Thursday.
Ahmed Said, an adviser to the interior minister in the rebels' interim government, did not identify the captured minister by name.
"We cannot give you details, but I can confirm that he is in custody," Said said.
A week ago, Foreign Minister Abdul Ati al-Obeidi told British broadcaster Channel 4 that Gadhafi's 42-year rule was over.
After six months of civil war, rebels have seized control of most of Libya, including the capital Tripoli, effectively ending Gadhafi's rule. The longtime leader and his family, however had not been captured, but rebels say they are hot on Gadhafi's trail.
Late Wednesday, two men claiming to be two different sons of Gadhafi made conflicting appeals from hiding, one calling for talks with rebel leaders and the other urging regime loyalists to fight to the death.
The dueling messages reflected the growing turmoil in Gadhafi's inner circle on the 42nd anniversary of his rise to power, which falls on Thursday.
It marks the coup against the monarchy of King Idris by 27-year-old Gadhafi and a group of military officers staged. Gadhafi took undisputed power and became a symbol of anti-Western defiance in a Third World recently liberated from its European colonial rulers. A brutal dictator, his regime was unchallenged until the uprising that began in February.
The rebels are pooling tips about Gadhafi's whereabouts from captured regime fighters and others, and believe he is most likely no longer in Tripoli, said Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the rebels' military chief in the capital.
Rebel forces have been advancing toward three regime strongholds: Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, the town of Bani Walid south of Misrata and Sabha, hundreds of miles south of the capital Tripoli.
There has been speculation that Gadhafi is hiding in one of those three towns.
In telephone calls to Arab TV stations within minutes of each other Wednesday night, two men claiming to be Gadhafi's sons sent messages to the Libyan people.
A man identifying himself as Seif al-Islam Gadhafi urged his father's supporters to fight the rebels "day and night." He told the Syrian-based Al-Rai TV station that residents of Bani Walid agreed that "we are going to die on our land." Seif al-Islam was once considered the moderate face of the Gadhafi regime and the leader's heir apparent.
He said NATO carried out several airstrikes in Bani Walid that killed people.
"Attack the rats," he said, referring to the rebels. He said he was calling from a suburb of Tripoli and that his father "is fine."
In a separate phone call to the Al-Arabiya TV station, a man identifying himself as al-Saadi Gadhafi said he was ready to negotiate with the rebels to stop the bloodshed. Rebel leaders have repeatedly said they won't negotiate until Gadhafi is gone.
Al-Saadi said he spoke for his father and regime military commanders in calling for talks. He said that the rebels could lead Libya.
"We don't mind. We are all Libyans," he said. "We have no problem to give them power."
The voice of Seif al-Islam ' who was reportedly captured by the rebels earlier this month only to turn up free and defiant in Tripoli ' was easily recognizable. Al-Saadi's voice is less familiar and more difficult to confirm.
"The regime is dying," said rebel council spokesman Abdel-Hafiz Ghoga, reacting to the two statements. "Gadhafi's family is trying to find an exit," he added. "They only have to surrender completely to the rebels and we will offer them a fair trial. We won't hold negotiations with them over anything."
Ghoga told The Associated Press Wednesday that the rebels learned two days ago that Gadhafi, Seif al-Islam and al-Saadi Gadhafi were in Bani Walid, but now he doesn't know their whereabouts.
Hassan al-Saghir, a rebel official who oversees an area that includes the southern city of Sabha, repeated an ultimatum for Gadhafi's supporters to surrender by Saturday but said there were no signs of that.
"I think they still think they are able to control the south," he said. "It is a desperate attempt and it will not last long."
Earlier, Belhaj said al-Saadi Gadhafi called him Tuesday to negotiate the terms of his surrender. Belhaj said he told al-Saadi he would be turned over to Libyan legal authorities after he turns himself in.
"We told him, 'Don't fear for your life. We will guarantee your rights as a human being, and will deal with you humanely,'" said Belhaj, speaking at his headquarters at an air base in Tripoli.
Asked by Al-Arabiya if he was offering to surrender, al-Saadi said: "If my surrender will put an end to the bloodshed, I will do that."
Gadhafi's eight adult children have played influential roles in Libya, from commanding an elite military unit to controlling the oil sector. Al-Saadi, 38, headed the Libyan Football Federation, and at one point played in Italy's professional league but spent most of his time on the bench.
Gadhafi's wife, Safiya, sons Mohammed and Hannibal, and daughter Aisha fled to Algeria on Monday. Aisha gave birth to her fourth child Tuesday in Algeria.
Sixty world leaders and top-level envoys are meeting Thursday in Paris on Libya's future. The gathering is likely to focus on unfreezing billions in Libyan funds held abroad and reconciling differences over how to deal with the new Libya. The lessons of the U.S.-led war in Iraq and years of insurgent violence there will loom large.