Fighters advanced on one of Moamer Kadhafi’s last remaining bastions on Sunday, as Libya’s new leaders called for the ousted strongman to stand trial in his homeland when captured.
A commander of the fighters said talks aimed at securing the peaceful surrender of Kadhafi’s forces in Bani Walid had been abandoned and an assault on the oasis town southeast of Tripoli was imminent.
“We are getting ready,” said Mohamed al-Fassi, checkpoint commander in the village of Shishan, 70 kilometres (45 miles) north of Bani Walid.
“Negotiations between Kadhafi’s men and our forces have ended. These people aren’t serious. Twice they promised to surrender only to go back on their word,” he said.
A local spokesman for the National Transitional Council (NTC) now governing Libya said the frontline stood 15 to 20 kilometres (10 to 12 miles) north of Bani Walid and that troops were poised for an advance.
“We are waiting for orders to go into the city,” Mahmud Abdelaziz said.
“Last night the Kadhafi forces tried to move out. Our fighters responded and there were some clashes lasting a few minutes.”
The new government’s interim interior minister Ahmed Darrat told AFP he was confident the town’s capture was imminent. “We expect Bani Walid to be freed today or tomorrow,” he said.
The deputy chief of the military council in the town of Tarhuna, north of Bani Walid, said a last round of negotiations would be held with tribal leaders to try to secure the peaceful entry of the new government’s troops.
“We are waiting for them,” Abdulrazzak Naduri told AFP
“Everything depends on the negotiations. If they refuse (to surrender), we will advance, If the negotiations go well, we will enter and hoist the flag without a fight. It’s the last chance, we can’t extend our ultimatum again.”
On Saturday, Naduri said Kadhafi’s son Saadi was still in Bani Walid, along with other senior figures of the fallen regime, while prominent son Seif al-Islam had fled the town.
Preparations for the offensive appeared to be well underway even though NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil said in Benghazi on Saturday that a truce declared until September 10 remained in force.
“We are in a position of strength to enter any city but we want to avoid any bloodshed, especially in sensitive areas such as tribal areas,” he said, adding military deployments would continue during the ceasefire.
Civilians who managed to flee Bani Walid said that most of Kadhafi’s forces had now fled taking their heavy weaponry with them into the surrounding mountains.
NATO said its warplanes had hit an ammunition storage facility near Bani Walid on Saturday.
Alliance aircraft also hit a barracks, a military police camp and 11 other targets in Kadhafi’s hometown Sirte on the Mediterranean coast and carried out bombing raids on two other towns that remain in the hands of Kadhafi forces — Buwayrat west of Sirte and Hun in the Al-Jufra oasis.
NTC forces east of Sirte on Sunday moved to disarm members of the Hussnia tribe suspected of loyalty to the ousted strongman, an AFP correspondent reported.
The NTC spokesman in London Guma al-Gamaty said that when captured, Kadhafi should stand trial in Libya not before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague that has issued an arrest warrant for suspected crimes against humanity committed during the Libyan uprising.
“The ICC will only put Kadhafi on trial for crimes committed over the last six months,” Gamaty told BBC television.
“Kadhafi is responsible for an horrific catalogue of crimes committed over the last 42 years, which he should stand trial for and answer for and he can only answer for those in a proper trial in Libya itself.”
Gamaty said it would be up to the court to determine whether a death sentence was appropriate for Kadhafi, but added: “The court will be fair and just and will meet all international standards.
“It will be a fair trial — something that Kadhafi has never offered any Libyans who criticised him over the last 42 years.”
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini warned against too thorough a purge of Kadhafi appointees in the Libyan apparatus, pointing to the chaos that had ensued in Iraq when even low-ranking officials of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party were stripped of their jobs after the 2003 US-led invasion.
“If somebody used to work for the regime but has no blood on his hands, why destroy all the structure, all the apparatus of Libya like we’ve done in Iraq, making a big mistake?” he said.
In Iraq, US administrator Paul Bremer’s policy of sidelining all Baath party members and dismantling the army put hundreds of thousands of Iraqis on the streets, swelling the ranks of the insurgency.
In fresh revelations from documents obtained by media and rights groups in Tripoli, Britain’s Sunday Times said London invited two of Kadhafi’s sons to the headquarters of the SAS special forces unit in 2006 as former premier Tony Blair tried to build ties with the Libyan regime.