Imed Lamloum, AFP
Last updated: 16 May, 2011

Libya offers truce as warcrimes court readies warrants

Moamer Kadhafi’s regime offered a truce in return for an immediate NATO ceasefire, as the International Criminal Court on Monday considered arrest warrants for human rights abuses in Libya.

Kadhafi’s prime minister proposed the truce Sunday to the visiting UN special envoy to Libya, Abdul-Ilah al-Khatib, as an anti-regime revolt entered a fourth month.

Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmudi, quoted by JANA state news agency, said after meeting Khatib that Libya wants “an immediate ceasefire to coincide with a stop to the NATO bombardment and the acceptance of international observers.”

Libya, he added, was committed to the unity of its territory and people and that Libyans had the right to “decide on their internal affairs and political system through democratic dialogue away from the bombing threat.”

Mahmudi accused NATO, which is enforcing a UN-mandated no-fly zone over Libya, of “abuses and violations” including “political assassinations, the unjust maritime siege, bombing of civilian sites and destruction of infrastructure.”

During the meeting, Khatib pressed the need for a ceasefire and access to stricken Libyan cities, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said in New York.

Regime officials told the UN envoy they were “open and ready to fully engage,” Nesirky. No mention was made however of the Libyan offer of a ceasefire.

Khatib also met with Libya’s foreign minister Abdelati Laabidi and tribal leaders who support the regime, but he was unable to get a meeting with Kadhafi, who has had two rounds of UN sanctions imposed since his crackdown on opposition protests started in mid-February.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke by telephone with Mahmudi on Sunday, but no details were given of their discussions. The UN leader has made repeated calls for a ceasefire, including in a stormy telephone discussion with Kadhafi.

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor meanwhile said on Sunday he was “almost ready” for a Libyan rights abuse trial, as he prepared to apply for arrest warrants.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo is expected to ask ICC judges in The Hague to issue three arrest warrants on Monday, when the names of the accused could be revealed.

Diplomats have said Kadhafi would likely head the list.

“We are almost ready for trial,” Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement. “The office collected good and solid evidence to identify (those) who bear the greatest responsibility.”

General David Richards, Britain’s chief of the defence staff, meanwhile told Britain’s Sunday Telegraph more military action was needed against the Libyan strongman.

“The vice is closing on Kadhafi, but we need to increase the pressure further through more intense military action,” he said.

The general said he wanted NATO member states to support the targeting of Kadhafi’s regime, not just targets which pose an immediate threat to civilians, such as tanks and artillery.

“The military campaign to date has been a significant success for NATO and our Arab allies. But we need to do more. If we do not up the ante now there is a risk that the conflict could result in Kadhafi clinging to power,” Richards said.

Protests against Kadhafi’s 41-year autocratic rule began on February 15 and quickly escalated into a popular uprising, inspired by revolts in Tunisia and Egypt that toppled their respective hardline rulers.

Kadhafi ordered his forces to crush the uprising, prompting a rebellion that has claimed thousands of lives while seeing much of eastern Libya fall into the hands of insurgents who have vowed to march on Tripoli and topple Kadhafi.

On March 19, French, US and British forces, under a UN mandate to protect civilians, launched air strikes on Kadhafi’s forces in a campaign that was taken over by NATO on March 31.

In the rebels’ eastern bastion of Benghazi, Jalal al-Gallal, a spokesman for their National Transitional Council, touted the achievements of the past three months.

“These three months have been very long,” Gallal told AFP. “But we managed to secure the eastern areas, free Misrata and the mountainous regions in the west.”

He added: “Kahdafi’s isolation is irreversible. And most importantly, we achieved freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of movement. Kadhafi’s biggest mistake was failing to understand how important these were for us.”

But he also acknowledged that people in the east were losing patience that Kadhafi was still in power and that the military campaign against him had hit a stalemate.

“It is true, people are impatient. And euphoria could drop a little bit,” Gallal said.

“After being optimistic, we have to start to be pragmatic. It is true, there could be some discontent.”