Libya rejects international court warrant for Al Qathafi
(Reuters) - Libya dismissed a move by the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for leader Muammar Al Qathafi on Monday, rejecting the authority of the tribunal.
"Libya ... does not accept the decisions of the ICC which is a tool of the Western world to prosecute leaders in the Third World," Justice Minister Mohammed al-Qamoodi told a news conference in Tripoli.
"The leader of the revolution and his son do not hold any official position in the Libyan government and therefore they have no connection to the claims of the ICC against them," Qamoodi added.
Al Qathafi holds no formal office in Libya's political system despite having ruled for more than 41 years.
The Hague-based court approved warrants for Al Qathafi, his son Seif al-Islam and Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi on charges of crimes against humanity. Prosecutors allege they were involved in the killing of civilian protesters who rose up in February against Al Qathafi's 41-year rule.
Presiding judge Sanji Mmasenono Monageng said Al Qathafi and his son were accused of having "conceived and orchestrated a plan to deter and quell by all means the civilian demonstrations" against the regime. Senussi was accused of having attacks carried out.
While the ruling is unlikely to lead to Al Qathafi's arrest as long he remains in power and inside Libya, it was welcomed by the Libyan rebels and their NATO backers as a sign that Al Qathafi had no legitimacy to rule.
The Hague Court Issues Warrant for Al Qathafi for War Crimes
(N.Y. Times) - The International Criminal Court in The Hague issued arrest warrants on Monday for Col. Muammar Al Qathafi, his son Seif al-Islam and his chief of intelligence, Abdullah Senussi, on charges of crimes against humanity, including murder and persecution, stemming from the first two weeks of the uprising in Libya that led to a NATO bombing campaign.
At a 30-minute hearing, the presiding judge said there were “reasonable grounds” to hold the three men criminally responsible for killing, wounding and imprisoning hundreds of civilians after demonstrations against the regime began in February.
The judge, Sanji Monageng of Botswana, said it was impossible to know the number of victims because the crimes were covered up.
The court said that Colonel Al Qathafi and his son, whom it described as the “de facto prime minister,” intended to suppress all dissent and that this policy was implemented by Mr. Senussi, Colonel Al Qathafi’s brother-in-law and the head of military intelligence, which the court described as “one of the most powerful and efficient instruments of repression of the Al Qathafi regime.”
The warrants were limited to events between Feb. 18 and 28, before a full-scale conflict erupted between the Al Qathafi regime and rebel forces.
Libya is not among the 115 countries that recognize the court, and Libyan officials have said that they would disregard any court action. But the charges against Libyan leaders also carry the weight of the United Nations Security Council, which voted unanimously to instruct the court to investigate the crackdown against civilians.
The issuing of the arrest warrants immediately raised questions of how - and whether - the court could gain custody of the men without having police powers of its own.
Lawyers who follow the court said that the shortest route would be for Libyan rebels to capture the suspects. But even as rebel fighters have loosened Colonel Al Qathafi’s grip on the mountain towns southwest of Tripoli in recent weeks, they have been unable to reach the heavily defended capital.
On Monday, rebels based in the mountains pushed north and east to the town of Bir al Ghanam, roughly 100 miles from Tripoli, in heavy fighting with Al Qathafi forces, news agencies reported.
Failing a rebel capture of Colonel Al Qathafi, NATO, now in the 100th day of its air campaign against Al Qathafi’s forces, could expand its mandate to include the arrest of the three Libyans.
But any overt or covert operations to track down the suspects would require that NATO leaders revise their current policy of limiting alliance action to aerial attacks.
In the prosecutor’s office, there was a sense that the Security Council should find ways to help the court go beyond statements and mere threats of action.
But diplomats may oppose such a move on the grounds that they want to keep the road to a political solution open, as they did after the prosecution’s first request for the arrest warrants in May.
Even so, Mr. Al Qathafi and his inner circle have consistently resisted suggestions that they be given safe passage to exile abroad.
After 40 years in power, “Al Qathafi has made clear his determination to hang on; it defies belief that his arrest warrant is an obstacle to a negotiated settlement of the Libya crisis,” said Richard Dicker, a director of Human Rights Watch.
But diplomats have also made it clear that they see arrest warrants as useful tools against politicians identified as potential war criminals.
Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the Sudanese President, who is wanted by the court on genocide charges, remains strong at home, but he has skipped a number of international meetings to avoid the possibility of arrest.
Even leaders from countries friendly to Mr. Bashir have kept him away by saying that envoys from other countries would stay away from gatherings if he were present.
For the court, which opened in The Hague in 2002, Mr. Al Qathafi’s arrest warrant was the second issued for a sitting President, after that of the Sudanese President.
Other international courts in recent years have indicted former Presidents Charles Taylor of Liberia and Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia for war crimes while sitting as heads of states. Both were eventually arrested and brought to trial.
Will Al Qathafi be arrested? ICC’s chief prosecutor says, ‘Before year’s end’
(Al Arabiya) - The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, told Al Arabiya TVin an interview on Monday that he expects Muammar Al Qathafi to be arrested before year’s end.
Mr. Ocampo, who dubbed the day as a special day because the ICC formally issued an arrest warrant upon his recommendation, said that the ICC has found evidence against Mr. Al Qathafi, his son Seif al-Islam and the country’s intelligence head Abdullah al-Senussi of committing crimes against humanity to quell the country’s dissidents.
Mr. Ocampo said that Mr. Al Qathafi’s son has recruited mercenaries who were used to crush dissidents earlier on, and that Mr. Senussi has aided both the strongman and his son in brutally quelling the rebels.
Libyans in Benghazi celebrated the International Criminal Court’s arrest orders against the country’s Colonel Al Qathafi, his son Seif, and Mr. Senussi.
Mr. Ocampo said the court found evidence of torture, including the use of Viagra in a rape campaign against dissidents but he said that no women had publicly came before the court to fully testify.
He cited cultural sensitivity for women to come before the court and publicly allege their rape.
He also said that the ICC might indict one or two officials over torture charges, adding that the ICC will also probe and investigate Libyan rebels over crimes.
Asked about Syria, Mr. Ocampo said that the ICC cannot indict Syrian officials before a Security Council UN resolution against the country was approved.
Negotiations on Libya underway: UN political chief
(Xinhua News, China) - Although an agreement is still far from being concluded, the beginning of a negotiation process is underway over conflict-torn Libya, Lynn Pascoe, who is the UN's under secretary-general for political affairs, said here on Monday.
"The nascent negotiation process must be given space to grow and bear fruit," Pascoe said while briefing a Security Council meeting on Libya.
He urged the international community to deliver a consistent, clear and coherent message of a political solution to both parties.
The Council's meeting came almost five months after the political crisis in Libya started and three months since the passage of Security Council resolution 1973 - which authorised military intervention in Libya.
In his speech, the envoy also underlined that "the goal of the current international efforts in Libya is to protect civilians."
"We must ensure that the basic rights and freedoms of the Libyan people are fully respected and protected and that their legitimate aspirations are met," Pascoe said.
He also expressed concern over the continuing reports about civilian casualties resulting from attacks from government forces, military actions by opposition forces or NATO.
"Every effort must be made to avoid exposing civilians to risk, " he said.
Pascoe also added that early preparations for post-conflict peace-building and peace consolidation must be a clear part of the planning.
Fighting rages in western Libya
(L.A. Times) - Rebels and forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Al Qathafi exchanged ferocious barrages of antiaircraft and machine-gun fire Sunday as NATO warplanes pounded government-held areas on the edge of the rebel-controlled Nafusa Mountain range, ending a relative lull in combat in western Libya.
Fighting also erupted near the mountain town of Bir Ghanam on the southern edge of Zawiyah province, whose main city of the same name was briefly under rebel control.
The latest round of clashes began after Al Qathafi's forces fired Russian-made Grad rockets at rebel positions in key highland areas.
At least one rebel was killed and two injured, but the insurgents held their ground, said one of their commanders, who requested anonymity because he has family in Tripoli, the capital and Al Qathafi's stronghold.
Rebels in the Nafusa Mountains, a 90-mile range near the Tunisian border with sparsely populated villages and towns, rose up against Al Qathafi's four-decade rule in February, taking up arms when confronted with his military force.
In recent weeks, rebel committees governing mountain towns and villages in the area have begun to coordinate more closely with one another and with their allies in the eastern city of Benghazi, where the leaders of the nationwide rebellion have set up their capital.
NATO jets circled overhead for hours Sunday as rebels armed with assault rifles in Kikla, a front-line mountain town captured by insurgents a month ago, faced off against Al Qathafi's forces.
In the afternoon, planes began striking the nearby town of Qawalish, where rebels say Libyan forces store arms. The fighting continued into the night with ground-shaking thuds. Tracer fire from government antiaircraft weapons could be seen in the distance.
Libya's official news agency reported the attacks on Qawalish, quoting sources saying "that this aggressive bombardment had caused the martyrdom and injury of a number of people and the destruction of some vehicles."
State-controlled media also reported NATO bombing strikes Saturday night in the Khalat Furjan district of Tripoli.
International Criminal Court issues arrest warrant for Al Qathafi
(CNN) - The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants Monday for Libyan leader Muammar Al Qathafi and two of his relatives.
ICC Judge Sanji Mmasenono Monageng read aloud the decision to issue warrants for Al Qathafi, his son Seif al-Islam Al Qathafi and brother-in-law Abdullah al-Sanussi.
Seif Al-Islam Al Qathafi is a close adviser to his father. His arrest warrant came two days after his 39th birthday. Al-Sanussi serves as Al Qathafi's head of intelligence.
The warrants are "for crimes against humanity," including murder and persecution, "allegedly committed across Libya" from Feb. 15 through "at least" Feb. 28, "through the state apparatus and security forces," the court said in a news release.
In Misurata, a critical city for Libyan rebels in which fighting has raged, a crowd cheered Monday following the news from the court.
The announcement at The Hague came as fighting inside Libya inched closer to the capital. A rebel fighter, Hassan al-Jiwali, told CNN the rebels were 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Tripoli on Monday.
Libya is not a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the international court's authority, and the court does not have the power to enter Libya and arrest the leaders.
Many of those cheering in Misurata saw the news as a sign that the world recognizes the conduct rebels say Al Qathafi's regime has been engaged in.
The three-judge Pre-Trial Chamber I at The Hague found "reasonable grounds to believe that the three suspects committed the alleged crimes and that their arrests appear necessary in order to ensure their appearances before the court," the written announcement said.
The court also believes the warrants are needed to ensure that the three "do not continue to obstruct and endanger the court's investigations; and to prevent them from using their powers to continue the commission of crimes within the jurisdiction of the court."
The U.N. Security Council referred the matter to the ICC through a resolution Feb. 26, following widespread complaints about Al Qathafi's efforts to crush a rebellion.
The resolution said that while "states not party to the Rome Statute have no obligations under the statute, the Security Council urged all states and concerned regional and other international organisations to cooperate fully with the court and the prosecutor."
Al Qathafi has made clear he would not recognise the court's authority.
Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has said he has evidence linking Al Qathafi, Seif al-Islam Al Qathafi and Abdullah al-Sanussi to crimes against humanity, including "widespread and systematic" attacks on civilians, in their attempt to put down the months-long revolt.
Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim has previously denied the allegations and criticized what he said were incoherent conclusions of the prosecutor's office.
This is not the first time that the International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for a country's leader in the midst of a conflict. The court issued a warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in 2007, while conflict simmered in that country's western Darfur region.
Moreno-Ocampo told CNN shortly after filing his request with the court that he had evidence that revealed Seif al-Islam Al Qathafi organised the recruitment of mercenaries to defend the regime and al-Sanussi participated in attacks on demonstrators.
Authorities believe Muammar Al Qathafi ordered attacks on unarmed civilians, he told CNN, and al-Sanussi is "his right-hand man, the executioner."
Moreno-Ocampo began investigating claims against Muammar Al Qathafi on February 15, when demonstrations against the leader's regime accelerated. Since then, war has erupted in Libya as Muammar Al Qathafi has tried to keep his grip on power.
The probe took investigators to 11 countries and included the review of 1,200 documents and interviews with about 50 witnesses.
A report issued in early May found the alleged crimes against humanity include the alleged commission of rape by supporters of Al Qathafi's government, as well as the deportation or forcible transfer of citizens during the civil war in the country.
Moreno-Ocampo has scheduled a news conference Tuesday to discuss the court's decision.
The issue of Libyan casualties led the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution in March authorising force by whatever means necessary, with the exception of a ground invasion, to protect civilians. NATO began bombing military targets a short time later.
A rebel military leader, Hajj Osama al-Jiwali, told CNNMonday that rebels want "more airstrikes and hits of Al Qathafi strategic locations for the wake of time and for the the rebuilding of Libya." He called on the United Nations to be "at the forefront" of efforts in Libya.
Al-Jiwali said rebel fighters on Sunday fought "a very fierce battle against the Al Qathafi forces in Beir al-Ghanam, where four rebel fighters died and eight were injured, and more than 30 of the Al Qathafi forces have been killed." The battle was still ongoing Monday, but not as fierce, he said.
"The rebel forces are in high sprits and determined to continue to Tripoli to get rid of Al Qathafi and his collaborators. They are in high spirits and the victory is closer than ever, " al-Jiwali added.
NATO warplanes struck a rocket launcher system mounted on a government truck near the town of B'ir al Ghanam.
Three explosions could be heard in the Libyan capital late Monday morning.
"They appear closer than those heard in the past few days and week," said CNN producer Raja Razek, who is in Tripoli.
The International Criminal Court action comes a day after the African Union announced Al Qathafi will not be part of its next attempt to map out a peace deal in Libya.
It was unclear who would represent the Libyan government in negotiations, or when negotiations would occur. Journalists were not allowed to ask questions at a news conference following Sunday's meeting of the African Union's special committee on Libya in Pretoria, South Africa.
Members of the committee have met with Al Qathafi and opposition leaders over the past three months. Another African Union-led attempt to broker peace between Al Qathafi and the rebels fell through in April.
The committee repeated calls Sunday for a cease-fire between the Libyan government and rebels.
"Only a political solution will make it possible to sustainably settle the current conflict," the statement said.
It also urged NATO to temporarily suspend its bombing campaign to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid.
ICC Issues arrest warrant for Al Qathafi
(Aljazeera.net) - Libyan leader, his son Seif al-Islam and his spy chief Abdullah Senussi indicted for crimes against humanity.
The judges said the indictments and arrest warrants were not proof of guilt, which must be proved at trial (Reuters)
The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for the Libyan leader Muammar Al Qathafi, his son and his spy chief, citing evidence of crimes against humanity committed against political opponents.
Judge Sanji Mmasenono Monageng announced the decision on behalf of a three-judge panel in The Hague Monday, saying the warrants were meant to force Al Qathafi and his two confidantes to appear before the court and prevent the possibility of a cover-up.
It was the second time in the ICC's nine-year history that it issued an arrest warrant for a sitting head of state. The ICC indicted the Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir, in 2009, though he has yet to be arrested.
"State policy was designed at the highest level of the state machinery, and aimed at quelling by any means, including by the use of lethal force, demonstrations of civilians against the regime of Muammar Muhammad Al Qathafi," Monageng said.
She stressed that the indictment and warrants for Al Qathafi, his son Seif al-Islam, and his military intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi were not proof of guilt, which must be proved at trial.
But she said the evidence submitted by Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC prosecutor, was enough to establish "reasonable grounds to believe" the three were guilty of murder and the persecution of civilians, or "crimes against humanity," and that they should be arrested.
"Consistent modus operandi"
Beginning on February 15, when demonstrations first broke out, and continuing until at least February 28, Monageng said, Libya's security and military forces killed or imprisoned hundreds of perceived dissidents in Tripoli, Misurata and Benghazi, along with a number of other cities.
Those security forces followed "a consistent modus operandi ... an attack against the civilian population," she said.
Al Qathafi had "absolute and unquestioned control over the Libyan state apparatus of power," while Seif al-Islam - his second-oldest son and "unspoken successor" - functioned as a "de factor prime minister" and controlled the state's finances and logistics, she said.
Abdullah Senussi, meanwhile, "exercised his role as the national head of military intelligence, one of the most powerful and efficient organs of repression," Monageng said.
She said that Senussi personally commanded regime forces and ordered them to attack civilians during the fighting in Benghazi, which lasted between February 15 and 27 and ended when the local military base known as the Katiba fell into anti-government hands.
Senussi and some of his men were reportedly allowed to escape after negotiating with troops who had defected to the protesters' side.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC's chief prosecutor, submitted a 74-page dossier of evidence to the panel on May 16, requesting arrest warrants for Al Qathafi, his second-eldest son, Seif al-Islam, and his intelligence chief, Abdullah Senussi.
The Court's decision coincides with the 100th day of NATO operations in Libya. International military intervention succeeded in turning back Al Qathafi's advance on rebel-held cities, but opposition forces have made few advances since air strikes began on March 19.
Al Qathafi has refused calls to step aside and has issued defiant video and audio messages from undisclosed locations, calling the intervention a "crusade" against his country and an attempt by the West to recolonise Libya.
He is believed to still be in Libya, along with Seif al-Islam and Abdullah Senussi.
Ocampo had sought indictments for all three on charges of crimes against humanity. He alleged that the three met and planned a brutal crackdown against protesters who took to Libya's streets in mid-February, emboldened by uprisings in nearby neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt.
Al Qathafi and Senussi personally issued orders to attack protesters, and Seif al-Islam helped organise the recruitment of mercenaries to put down what became an armed rebellion based out of the country's east, Ocampo said.
Security forces and mercenaries attacked civilians in their homes, used heavy weaponry on funeral processions, and set up snipers to shoot at worshippers leaving mosques, he said.
Ocampo's investigation focused on incidents in Benghazi, Misurata and Tripoli from February 15-20. Benghazi successfully overthrew government control in mid-February, while Misurata held out against an oftentimes indiscriminate attack by regime troops for months, only breaking out of its siege in May.
Al Qathafi's security forces successfully stifled dissent in Tripoli, the capital, but unrest in the form of enormous petrol-line queues, sporadic demonstrations and occasional night-time assassinations has begun to grow.
Thousands have so far died in the fighting, while around 650,000 others have fled the country. Another 243,000 Libyans have been displaced internally, according to figures from the United Nations.
The UN Security Council referred the Libyan conflict to the ICC on February 26, and Ocampo launched his investigation five days later.
It's unclear what practical effect the arrest warrant will have on the three men. Al Qathafi has made no public indication he is willing to give up power, and the warrant against Bashir seems to have little chance of being enforced: Bashir has travelled to Qatar, Chad and Egypt without incident.
Libyan rebels make push toward Tripoli
(UPI) - Clashes between rebel forces and troops loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Al Qathafi broke out about 50 miles southwest of Tripoli, a rebel spokesman said.
The rebels said they were making a push for the country's capital, the BBC reported Monday.
The rebel spokesman in the Nafsua Mountains reported heavy fighting near the town of Bir al-Ghanam.
The International Criminal Court decided Monday to issue an arrest warrant for Al Qathafi.
ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said he has evidence tying Al Qathafi, his son, Seif, and brother-in-law Abdullah al-Sanussi, head of Libya's intelligence agency, to crimes against humanity in their attempt to quell opponents fighting to oust Al Qathafi for months.
The son is Seif al-Islam Al Qathafi. Another son named Seif (Seif al-Arab Al Qathafi) was killed in an air strike in late April.
The BBC said fighting near Bir al-Ghanam began Sunday when government forces tried to cut off the rebels by attacking from the rear.
Since the rebels' weaponry was limited, most of them were focused on a push from the western mountains toward Tripoli, said the rebels' defence leader, Jalal al-Dgheli.
Opposition forces also could soon begin a push toward the capital from the east near Brega.
"What we're learning from defectors is that Al Qathafi's supporters are getting fewer, people who are close to him are abandoning him and his inner circle is getting smaller by the day," al-Dgheli told the BBC.
NATO aircraft circled overhead for hours Sunday as rebels in Kikla fought against Al Qathafi's forces, the Los Angeles Times reported. In the afternoon, NATO conducted airstrikes in Qawalish, where rebels say Libyan forces store arms.
Libya's official news agency reported the attacks on Qawalish, quoting sources as saying "this aggressive bombardment had caused the martyrdom and injury of a number of people and the destruction of some vehicles."
Three explosions were heard in Tripoli Monday morning, CNN reported.
The Libyan government renewed its offer of conducting an election on whether Al Qathafi should stay in power.
The African Union announced during the weekend Al Qathafi would not be part of the organization's next attempt to develop a peace deal in Libya, CNN said. It was unclear who would represent the Libyan government in negotiations, or when negotiations would occur.
Factbox: Latest developments in Libyan conflict
(Reuters) - Following are the latest political and military developments in the Libyan crisis:
- Libyan rebels trying to overthrow Muammar Al Qathafi have pushed to within about 80 km (50 miles) of the capital, a rebel spokesman told Reuters on Monday, in the biggest rebel breakthrough in weeks.
- Libya's foreign minister and two other ministers were in Tunisia negotiating with "foreign parties," Tunisia's state news agency reported.
- Al Qathafi is the historical choice of the Libyan people and cannot be moved aside, his government said on Sunday, stepping back from earlier statements offering an election on his future role.
- Four members of Libya's national soccer team and 13 other football figures have defected to rebels in a blow to Al Qathafi's government, the rebel authority in eastern Libya said on Saturday.
- U.S. bank Goldman Sachs lacked the standard documents it needed to protect itself in a series of options trades it made for the Libyan Investment Authority in 2008, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.
NATO said it conducted 138 air sorties on Sunday, 56 of them strike sorties that aim to identify and hit targets but do not always deploy munitions.
NATO said key targets hit on Sunday included:
Three command and control nodes in Brega
One tank in the vicinity of Brega
Three armed pickup trucks in the vicinity of Ras Lanuf
Two artillery pieces in the vicinity of Zintan
One antenna in vicinity of Zuwarah
One logistics node in the vicinity of Yafran
- Two towed artillery pieces in the vicinity of Tripoli
Since NATO took over command of air strikes on March 31, its aircraft have conducted 12,745 sorties, including 4,804 strike sorties. NATO members participating in air strikes in Libya include France, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Italy and the United States.
Twenty ships under NATO command are patrolling the central Mediterranean Sea to enforce a U.N. arms embargo. On Sunday, 16 vessels were hailed to determine destination and cargo. Four were boarded but none diverted.
A total of 1,532 vessels have been hailed, 126 boarded and eight diverted since the start of the arms embargo.
Western Libya Earns a Taste of Freedom as Rebels Loosen Al Qathafi’s Grip
(N.Y. Times) - Until a few weeks ago, the rebellious towns in the Nafusah Mountains were struggling to survive on dwindling supplies of barley, water and gas during a long siege by Col. Muammar Al Qathafi’s soldiers.
But after an improbable series of military victories over the past three weeks - with fewer than 100 rebel fighters killed, their military leaders say - residents of a broad area in this mountain region are celebrating virtual secession from Colonel Al Qathafi’s Libya.
While there have been defeats, and the Grad rockets of Colonel Al Qathafi’s forces still menace the outskirts of Nalut near the Tunisian border and Yafran to the east, rebels point hopefully to the growing stability of the towns under their control as evidence of how tenuous Colonel Al Qathafi’s grip may be.
“This is the new Libya,” said Anwar Fekini, a Sorbonne-educated French-Libyan lawyer, rebel organizer and local tribal leader who returned for a weekend trip to his ancestral home to strategise with local allies. “It feels good.”
He delicately accepted an ageing Belgian rifle from two grey-haired rebel fighters, just for safekeeping.
The Nafusah Mountains have emerged as a strategically significant front in the battle for Libya, in part because the rebels there are closest to Colonel Al Qathafi’s stronghold in the capital, Tripoli, and in part because they have the potential to cut off vital supply lines from the border.
And though barely trained and few in number - one rebel leader estimated that there were about 2,000 armed fighters - they have used their knowledge of the terrain and the sympathies of much of the local population to expand their territory as the fighting around Benghazi to the east and Misurata on the central coast has moved toward a stalemate.
The rebels have established firm control of more than a half-dozen towns from the Dhiba border crossing into Tunisia, where rebel guards mingle amiably with their Tunisian counterparts, to the major town of Yafran, a 90-minute drive from Tripoli.
Indeed, on a tour from the border to the front beyond Yafran, rebel security seemed extraordinarily light, with hardly any guards at the Dhiba crossing. Teenagers were running checkpoints along the road, and some front-line posts were unmanned.
After months of an exodus, driven by the fighting in the mountains, refugees returning home jam the border crossing in a long line. This weekend, several Tripoli residents arrived to take refuge with their families as well.
In many towns, local authorities say that most of the Al Qathafi government employees kept working as the rebels took over, and the same police officers now patrol the streets in fresh new rebel uniforms. Their own makeshift jails house captured soldiers.
At least seven local newspapers - photocopied newsletters - have sprung up to capitalize on the new freedom of the press.
In Rogeban, each issue of a new newspaper produced by a history professor includes both a “face of the revolution” feature on a local activist and a short civics lesson introducing concepts that may be useful in discussing Libya’s future, like “confederation” or “federalism.”
Rogeban residents have covered the walls with cartoons mocking Colonel Al Qathafi and decorated public spaces with shards of his military’s Grad rockets. A new museum in Yafran celebrates local culture and achievements, with one room devoted to the armaments fired at local communities and another archiving the new newspapers.
There is also a media centre in Yafran. The founder said he had received five visitors. “But we’re expecting a lot more,” he said.
Across the border in Tunisia, a small industry has sprung up to furnish baseball hats and T-shirts emblazoned with the tricolor pre-Al Qathafi Libyan flag that the rebels have adopted as their own.
Local doctors say they are now better equipped with supplies than they were before the uprising, in part because of the generosity of wealthier Libyans abroad.
The rebels have even painted a runway along more than a mile of highway, in the hopes that planes might land with more weapons and supplies.
In the latest victory, several members of the Libyan national soccer team defected from Tripoli and entered the Nafusah Mountains on Friday to declare their support for the insurrection.
Residents in the mountains here have long been resentful of the Al Qathafi government, in part because perhaps a third are members of the Berber ethnic minority.
For decades Colonel Al Qathafi denied and suppressed the existence of their culture, language and sect of Islam, and in Berber centres like Jadu, Nalut and Yafran, Berber symbols have been added to the rebel flag.
Signs and graffiti in the characters of the Berber language, Amazigh, have sprouted up everywhere, along with newspapers printed in Amazigh and Arabic. At a rally Friday night in Jadu, demonstrators carried signs calling for national recognition of their language and others, declaring “Libya is one tribe.”
But the key to their success, rebels military leaders say, has been the extraordinarily weak morale of Colonel Al Qathafi’s troops.
The turning point came with the rebels’ surprise takeover of the border crossing between Wazen, Libya, and Dhiba, Tunisia, on April 21. Two nights earlier, the rebels sneaked down through the mountains at 1:30 a.m. to attack Colonel Al Qathafi’s troops.
After reinforcements arrived the next day, the rebel fighters ultimately numbered about 120, with 16 pickup trucks equipped with artillery captured or taken by defectors from the Libyan Army.
The force included dozens of former army officers who had switched sides at the start of the revolt, but the rest of the force was so under-equipped that some of the rebels were fighting with 100-year-old rifles their ancestors once used to fight the Italian colonial rulers.
Still, the next morning they managed to turn back a column of pro-Al Qathafi reinforcements trying to climb to the crossing from their base in the town of Al Ghezaia, rebel fighters said.
After a pitched battle on the second day of the fight, the better-equipped and more numerous pro-Al Qathafi border guards abruptly abandoned their post around breakfast time, said rebel fighters and Tunisian officers who watched the retreat.
The final fight lasted just 26 minutes, a Tunisian witness said, and no rebels were killed.
“We drank their tea,” said Omar Fekini, 49, a veteran of Libya’s ill-fated war with Chad who helped lead the rebel assault.
A group of pro-Al Qathafi troops briefly retook the crossing the next week, but less than a day later they, too, retreated before a similarly motley and ill-equipped rebel band, whose leaders could provide no explanation for their own success.
NATO planes played no role in the battle for the border post, although the burned shells of tanks along the road provide evidence of strikes elsewhere.
At a police station here in Rogeban, rebels detained two captured pro-Al Qathafi soldiers in a narrow, windowless room furnished only with two bare and ripped foam mattresses.
Both had been captured nearly a month ago trying to flee the Al Qathafi forces’ checkpoints almost as soon as they heard artillery fire, according to the accounts of both the prisoners and their captors.
They had been wounded in firefights leading to their capture, and both said they had received adequate medical attention, though one still walked with a limp.
They said they had enlisted for a 10-day tour of duty after pro-Al Qathafi recruiters had told them they would be fighting foreign terrorists and mercenaries, but they offered little explanation for their professed ignorance of the Libyan revolt.
Not all is tranquil. Parts of Nalut, the Berber town closest to the border crossing, still lack electricity and water, and its outskirts come under fire from Grad rockets.
Many villages seem largely deserted. Last week, a group of rebels from Nalut tried unsuccessfully to attack a pro-Al Qathafi base about 10 miles into the valley below the town, losing several fights.
Leaders of other tribes suggested that the Naluti had invited their own defeat by refusing to ask for more help.
The other mountain front is between Yafran and Gharyan, a town of 85,000 that is Colonel Al Qathafi’s last major stronghold in the mountains.
Rebels at the last checkpoint beyond Yafran say they still come under occasional rocket fire from the pro-Al Qathafi forces, but the people of the small town between Yafran and Gharyan have so far refused to join their cause.
Standing at the last checkpoint, Hisham al-Gibali, 33, showed a bullet wound in his leg that he suffered near Yafran a few weeks ago.
He said he had left a life in the Netherlands to return to Libya to join the fight, and he contended that the rebels would soon take Gharyan, despite their inferior numbers, because of the strength of their morale.
“We are fighting for truth, and they are not,” he said. “The fighters from Zintan and Jadu will come here.
China says has contact with both sides
(Reuters) - China has had contacts with both sides in the Libyan conflict, Premier Wen Jiabao said on Monday.
"We hope that the issue of Libya will be resolved through political peaceful means to reduce the humanitarian harm - in particular the harm of innocent civilians," said Wen, speaking through a translator during a news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
"We respect the choice made by the Libyan people ... recently China has had contacts with both the Libyan government and the opposition party in Libya, that actually reflects the just position of China on this issue," he added.
Pressure Mounts on Al Qathafi as ICC issues arrest warrant
(Washington Post) - Thousands of jubilant Libyans danced and cheered in the streets of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant Monday for Muammar Al Qathafi, accusing him of crimes against humanity for killing civilians who rose up against his rule.
The court order raised pressure on the Al Qathafi regime, already targeted by daily airstrikes, and NATO clearly hopes it will encourage key allies to abandon him.
But it also gives Al Qathafi less incentive to accept a peaceful settlement that would see him leave power - something he has shown no indication of doing - because of the subsequent threat of arrest.
The court in The Hague, Netherlands, lacks police powers, and the force most likely to arrest Al Qathafi appears to be the rebels battling to oust him.
At the United Nations, political affairs chief B. Lynn Pascoe said the rebels now hold a tenuous military advantage over Al Qathafi’s forces. The rebels have failed to penetrate the Libyan leader’s centre of power in Tripoli and conceded Monday they are unlikely to detain Al Qathafi on their own.
Warrants were also issued for Al Qathafi’s son Seif al-Islam Al Qathafi, whom he has groomed as his successor, and for Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanoussi.
All three men were accused of orchestrating the killing, injuring, arrest and imprisonment of hundreds of civilians during the first 12 days of an uprising to topple Al Qathafi from power, and for trying to cover up their alleged crimes.
Presiding Judge Sanji Monageng of Botswana said Al Qathafi had “absolute, ultimate and unquestioned control” over his country’s military and security forces.
She said prosecutors presented evidence showing that following popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Al Qathafi and his inner circle plotted a “state policy ... aimed at deterring and quelling by any means - including by the use of lethal force - demonstrations by civilians against the regime.”
Hundreds of civilians were killed, injured or arrested, and there were “reasonable grounds to believe” that Al Qathafi and his son were both responsible for the murder and persecution of civilians, she said.
Al Qathafi’s regime rejected the court’s authority and dismissed the charges as politically motivated.
“This court is nothing but a cover for the military operations of NATO,” said Justice Minister Mohammed al-Qamudi.
“The ICC does not really mean anything for us Libyans because we are not party to it and because it’s merely a political tool for exerting pressure and political blackmail against sovereign countries. ... It has become clear that it’s a tool of imperialism.”
Hours after the arrest warrants were announced, dozens of pro-government supporters stormed the grounds of a Tripoli hotel where foreign journalists are required to stay, chanting slogans in support of the leader, who has held power since 1969. Defiant bursts of gunfire rang out across the capital into the evening.
By contrast, thousands of Libyans poured into Liberty Square in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi, with women ululating and dancing and several men shooting celebratory gunfire in the air.
The square echoed with chants of: “The blood of the martyrs will not be wasted” and “Freedom is here. Today we win.”
Benghazi resident Mohammed al-Nazeif, 35, said the warrants made for the happiest day in his life.
“We want Al Qathafi to be tried in Libya in front of everyone. Even if we die, our children will do the job,” he said. “We never felt like we are human beings until today.”
The warrant was the second issued for a sitting head of state since the court began work in 2002. Judges have twice issued warrants for Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.
The al-Bashir warrants underscore the court’s key shortcoming: He has repeatedly exposed the impotence of a court without its own police force by traveling to friendly nations without being arrested. But he also has canceled other trips for fear he could be detained and sent to The Hague.
International war crimes prosecutors count on such isolation eventually marginalising and weakening leaders to the point where they lose the support of important allies, paving the way for arrests.
Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic ended up in court at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal years after he was first indicted for fomenting the Balkan wars. Former Liberian leader Charles Taylor also has been brought before a war crimes tribunal in the Netherlands.
The White House called the court’s decision one more indication that Al Qathafi has lost his legitimacy. Spokesman Jay Carney said the ICC’s action underscores the need for justice and for holding Al Qathafi accountable.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen echoed that sentiment in Brussels.
“It reinforces the reason for NATO’s mission, to protect the Libyan people from Al Qathafi’s forces,” he said, adding that the Libyan leader and his supporters need to realize that “time is rapidly running out for them.”
NATO has been conducting daily airstrikes against military targets in Libya for the past 100 days under a United Nations resolution to protect civilians.
On Monday morning, loud explosions shook Tripoli. Libyan officials said two NATO missiles targeted Al Qathafi’s personal bus inside his Bab al-Azziziyah compound.
Journalists were taken to see a heavily damaged, burned out bus inside the compound two hours after the strike. It didn’t appear to have been struck recently, however, since it was cool to the touch. No one was reported killed.
Also on Monday, an anti-Al Qathafi youth group called the Free Generation Movement posted a video showing activists trying to set fire to a large street poster of Al Qathafi, apparently in the heart of Tripoli. The poster was partially damaged with soot clearly blackening part of Al Qathafi’s face.
It wasn’t possible to independently verify when and where the video was filmed.
- Contributing Editor, New York