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Gadhafi's daughter: Government in talks with rebels

Mahmoud Jibril
Mahmoud Jibril, executive bureau chairman of the transitional national council in Libya, listens during a Thursday news conference after talks with Austria's Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger in Vienna, Austria.Hans Punz / AP
/ Source: news services

The daughter of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi says both direct and indirect negotiations are being held between her father's authorities and Libyan rebels.

Aicha Gadhafi didn't elaborate during the France-2 network interview aired on French television Thursday night, hours after a key opposition leader pleaded for weapons and rebels were poised on a ridge south of Tripoli.

Aicha Gadhafi added that to end the spilling of Libyan blood "we are ready to ally ourselves with the devil, with the rebel army."

During the translated interview filmed in a Tripoli hotel, Aicha Gadhafi said her father remains "strong" and cannot leave the land where he is "a symbol, a guide."

Gadhafi's only daughter, in her mid-30s, held back tears when speaking of France's role in the NATO bombing campaign.

Aicha Gadhafi studied in France and said she had lost a daughter and brother in the bombings.

Opposition asks for more weapons
Libya's opposition leader said Thursday that rebels needed more weapons and funding.

Mahmoud Jibril, of Libya's Transitional National Council, said in Vienna, Austria, that foreign deliveries of military hardware would give the rebels a chance to "decide this battle quickly (and) to spill as little blood as possible."

Jibril, meeting with Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, warned that unless the opposition council receives large amounts of foreign money, schools will not be able to open later this year. Rebels earlier warned that hospitals are also running short on cash and supplies.

Austrian officials, who asked for anonymity because their information was sensitive, said the government was ready to unfreeze some of the billions of dollars frozen in Austrian accounts and funnel them to the rebels but only after making sure that such a move did not violate laws prohibiting the rights of the account holders, many of them private citizens.

The Austria meeting came as China and Russia raised concerns over revelations that France had supplied arms to civilians fighting Gadhafi forces. 

French military spokesman Col. Thierry Burkhard said Wednesday that France had airlifted weapons to Libyan civilians in a mountain region south of Tripoli. The deliveries of guns, rocket-propelled grenades and munitions took place in early June in the western Nafusa mountains, when Gadhafi's troops had encircled civilians.

Gadhafi's Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi predicted that France "will suffer for this," saying that the weapons could end up in the hands of terrorists.

China and Russia have both questioned whether supplying weapons breached the terms of the United Nations Security Council resolution that authorizes international action in Libya.

Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, said his ministry had asked France for further details. "We are awaiting a response. If it is confirmed, it's a flagrant violation," of the resolution, he said.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner, speaking to reporters in Washington Thursday, said the U.S. would "respectfully disagree" with the Russian assessment.

"We believe that U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973, read together, neither specified nor precluded providing defense material to the Libyan opposition," he said.

Russia abstained in the U.N. vote on Libya and has voiced concern about civilian casualties and excessive use of force during the NATO-led air campaign that began in March.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei did not mention France by name, but told reporters that nations should not overstep the remit of the U.N. resolutions.

"China calls on the international community to strictly follow the spirit of the relevant resolution of the U.N. Security Council and avoid taking any action that goes beyond the mandate of the resolution," he said.

Britain's government has insisted that the French decision to supply weapons fell within the terms of the U.N. resolutions.

Jalal el-Gallal, spokesman for Libya's opposition council, also said he believed France had acted correctly. "China has the right to disagree but the U.N. resolution stipulates whatever means necessary to protect civilians," he said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced Thursday the U.K. was sending 5,000 sets of body armor, 6,650 uniforms, 5,000 high-visibility vests and communications equipment to police officers in rebel-held areas.

He said the new supplies would help Libya's opposition protect civilians and the growing community of diplomats and aid workers in eastern Libya.

Rebels nearing Tripoli
About 50 rebel fighters spent Thursday at an observation post on a ridge two miles outside Bir al-Ghanam, about 50 miles from Tripoli. Using binoculars, they assessed the position of Gadhafi's forces massed on a desert plain below.

Apart from their Kalashnikov rifles, they are armed with an assortment of scavenged weapons, including pick-up trucks with anti-aircraft guns and rocket pods, normally slung under the wings of aircraft but here adapted to be carried on the trucks.

Gadhafi's forces know the rebels are watching them from the ridge. At one point on Thursday they fired mortars and artillery, sending people running for cover.

As well as around 50 fighters on the ridge, others were in positions further forward, closer to the town.

A rebel spokesman in Nalut in the western mountains said on Wednesday there had been exchanges of fire the day before.

"The revolutionaries and brigades exchanged bombardment yesterday evening in Bir al-Ghanam," said the spokesman, who gave his name as Mohammed. He said the rebels had seized weapons depots near the town.

The western mountains are the only area where the rebels have managed to make steady advances since NATO war planes began bombing to support them three months ago. It is the area that France said it armed rebels. Elsewhere, despite NATO support, rebel advances have been blocked by better-armed government troops.

With the war lasting longer than planned, the NATO allies who have pledged to keep bombing until Gadhafi is swept from power hope the advances on the western mountains front will finally turn the tide.