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Libya sees some progress in talks with rebels

By Adam Schreck

Associated Press

Published: Monday, July 4 2011 12:45 p.m. MDT

In this photo taken on a government-organized tour, a journalist takes a picture of rifles and ammunition that government official said were captured from Libyan rebels at the port in Tripoli, Libya, Monday, July 4, 2011. The Libyan military has captured a boat with weapons from Qatar that was meant to reach the rebels. Foreign reporters were later taken to Tripoli's port where they were shown a cache of weapons and ammunition displayed in a tent. The weapons included about 100 Belgian-made rifles, as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition. Several of the ammunition boxes were marked in English as coming from the armed forces of Qatar.

Tara Todras-Whitehill, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

TRIPOLI, Libya — A senior Libyan official said Monday that progress has been made in talks with rebels on ending more than four months of fighting, but a top rebel leader denied that any negotiations are taking place.

The rebel leader, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, also distanced himself from earlier comments attributed to him that Libya's opposition might consider allowing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to stay in the country as part of a transition deal, provided he resigns and orders a cease-fire.

"The Libyans do not want Gadhafi to stay even if he's dead ... after what he's done while in power and during the revolt against him," Abdul-Jalil said Monday.

In the Gadhafi-controlled capital of Tripoli, Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim told reporters that talks with various rebel officials have been going on for two months.

He said the negotiations have included some members of a transitional council based in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi, though he acknowledged that "of course there are elements within the rebellion who are not in favor in talks."

The aim of the discussions, taking place outside Libya and over the phone, is to halt hostilities and set a framework for further dialogue, he said.

Asked if progress has been made, he said: "In some areas, yes, of course."

Kaim alleged that some members of the NATO-led coalition conducting daily airstrikes in Libya have complicated efforts because they don't support negotiations. Talks are also being hindered because the rebels do not speak with one voice, he said.

Two weeks ago, Gadhafi's prime minister, al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, said the Libyan government had held a number of "preliminary meetings" with officials based in Benghazi. He said at the time that talks are taking place abroad, including in Egypt, Tunisia and Norway, but did not provide specifics.

However, Abdul-Jalil said that "there are no talks underway with Gadhafi's loyalists, direct or indirect."

An anti-government uprising erupted in Libya in mid-February and quickly turned into an armed conflict. The rebels are in control of the country's eastern third, while Gadhafi clings to the rest. His forces have been unable to retake several rebel-controlled pockets there, including the port city of Misrata.

NATO has been carrying out airstrikes against Gadhafi-linked military targets since March. It is joined by a number of Arab allies, including the wealthy Gulf states of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Several bomb blasts shook the capital Monday afternoon as coalition jets roared overhead.

In an interview, a Libyan army captain said NATO's airstrikes are preventing Gadhafi's forces from operating "in a normal coordinated way," forcing them to keep missions secret and operate like the rebels in small groups using pickup trucks to avoid detection by NATO planes.

The officer, who is originally from Mali and now holds Libyan nationality, said many suspected rebels have been arrested in Tripoli. Gadhafi still retains significant support, including among several Libyan tribes, said the officer who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

Also on Monday, Libyan officials said that shortly before dawn they intercepted two boats loaded with weapons from Qatar that were intended for the rebels. Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said 11 rebels were captured in the boats close to shore near the town of Janzour, just west of Tripoli.

Foreign reporters were later taken to Tripoli's port where they were shown a cache of rifles and ammunition displayed in a tent, but not the captured boats. The weapons included about 100 Belgian-made FN assault rifles, as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition of the same caliber used in the guns.

Several of the ammunition boxes were marked in English as coming from the armed forces of Qatar.

Qatar has emerged as one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the rebels. Its involvement in the country's civil war has enraged Libyan officials, who repeatedly criticized the country's ruling emir and its Al-Jazeera television network.

Also Monday, Gadhafi's son Seif al-Islam warned that Western powers involved in NATO's bombing campaign could be a target if they continue to support the forces trying to oust his father.

In an interview on French television, the younger Gadhafi said Libya is ready to call a cease-fire, adopt a new constitution and hold democratic elections.

But he warned that by supporting the Libyan opposition, Western countries "are going to be a reasonable target for us."

In a separate newspaper interview published Monday, he said Libya is "ready to put in place a transition government" for three or four months.

Associated Press writer Martin Vogl in Bamako, Mali and Rami al-Shaheibi in Benghazi, Libya contributed reporting.

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