TRIPOLI (Reuters) – The Libyan government sent an envoy to Greece yesterday to discuss an end to fighting, but gave no sign of any major climbdown in a war that has ground to a stalemate between rebels and forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.
Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi flew to Athens carrying a personal message from Gaddafi to Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou that Libya wanted the fighting to end, a Greek government official told Reuters.
“It seems that the Libyan authorities are seeking a solution,” Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas told reporters.
But there was no indication on what Tripoli might be ready to offer — beyond a willingness to negotiate — to end a war that has become bogged down on a frontline in the eastern oil town of Brega, while leaving civilians trapped by Gaddafi’s forces in the west.
Underlining the plight of civilians in western Libya, a Turkish ship that sailed into the besieged city of Misrata to rescue some 250 wounded had to leave in a hurry after crowds pressed forward on the dockside hoping to escape.
“It’s a very hard situation … We had to leave early,” said Turkish consular official Ali Akin after the ship stopped to pick up more wounded in the eastern rebel stronghold Benghazi.
Turkey’s foreign minister ordered the ship into Misrata after it spent four days waiting in vain for permission to dock.
It arrived under cover from 10 Turkish air force F-16 fighter planes and two navy frigates, Akin told Reuters.
The UN-mandated military intervention that began on March 19 was meant to protect civilians caught up in fighting between Gaddafi’s forces and the rebels.
Stalemate in Brega
Neither Gaddafi’s troops nor the disorganised rebel force have been able to gain the upper hand on the frontline in eastern Libya, despite Western air power in effect aiding the insurgents.
After chasing each other up and down the coastal road linking the oil ports of eastern Libya with Gaddafi’s tribal heartland further west, both sides have become bogged down in Brega, a sparsely populated settlement spread over more than 25 km (15 miles).
Yet Western countries, wary of becoming too entangled in another war after campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, have ruled out sending ground troops to help the rebels.
The United States, which has handed over command of the operation to NATO, said it had agreed to extend the use of its strike aircraft into today because of poor weather last week.
But it has stressed its desire to end its own involvement in combat missions, and shift instead to a support role in areas such as surveillance, electronic warfare and refuelling.
The combination of stalemate on the frontline and the plight of civilians caught in fighting or facing food and fuel shortages has prompted a flurry of diplomatic contacts to find a way out.
Greece said Obeidi would travel to Malta and Turkey after his talks in Greece, which has enjoyed good relations with Gaddafi for a number of years.
Papandreou had been talking by phone with officials in Tripoli as well as the leaders of Qatar, Turkey and Britain over the last two days.
One diplomat cautioned, however, that any diplomatic compromise — for example one in which Gaddafi handed over power to one of his sons — could lead to the partition of Libya.
That was a possibility ruled out by western countries before the air strikes were launched.
“Various scenarios are being discussed,” said the diplomat. “Everyone wants a quick solution.”
The rebels, meanwhile, are working to impose discipline among the ranks of their many inexperienced volunteers in order to not only hold their positions but push forward.
If there were eventually to be a ceasefire leading to the partition of Libya, control of revenues from the oil ports, including Brega and Ras Lanuf to the west, would be crucial.
The rebels named a “crisis team” with Gaddafi’s former interior minister as their armed forces chief of staff, and attempted to stiffen their enthusiastic but untrained volunteer army by putting professional soldiers at its head.
“We are reorganising our ranks. We have formed our first brigade. It is entirely formed from ex-military defectors and people who’ve come back from retirement,” former air force major Jalid al-Libie told Reuters in Benghazi.
Outside Brega, better rebel discipline was already in evidence on Sunday. The volunteers, and journalists, were being several kilometres (miles) east of the front.