Pro-Gaddafi tribal chiefs call for ‘amnesty’


Move comes as regime says Libya is one sovereign state and bid to fund rebels with frozen assets is ‘piracy’

Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, says that tapping blocked Libyan assets “poses legal problems” [EPA]

Libyan tribal chiefs have urged a general amnesty for all fighters engaged in the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, even as rebels warn of an impending assault on the western city of Misurata.
In a meeting that ended in Tripoli late on Friday evening, the National Conference for Libyan Tribes called for a “general amnesty law which will include all those who were involved in the crisis and took up arms”.
“The general amnesty law is a means of laying the path ahead for a new era of peace and forgiveness,” it said in a statement. No timetable for, nor details on, the proposed law were mentioned.
The statement also referred to opposition fighters as “traitors” and pledged that tribal leaders would not “forsake” or “abandon” Gaddafi.
The statement goes on to call for towns “hijacked” by opposition fighters to be “liberated”.

“The conference also calls all Libyan tribes neighbouring the towns and cities hijacked by armed groups to move peacefully in popular marches to liberate those hijacked towns, disarming the armed rebels,” it said.

Moussa Ibrahim, a government spokesman, said that the tribal leaders at the conference represent tribes from across the country, including those from the rebel-held east.

Clashes continue between pro- and anti-government forces, however, and on Saturday at least four shells were reported to have fallen on the Tunisian side of Libya’s western border, Reuters reported.

Anger at international funding

The Libyan government, meanwhile, has reacted angrily to a decision by several countries to provide funding to Libya’s opposition fighters, terming a plan to use assets frozen abroad as tantamount to “piracy”.

Khaled Kaim, the country’s deputy foreign minister, rejected international efforts to set up the fund, which is intended to provide pro-democracy forces with support in their fight against Libyan leader Gaddafi.

“Libya still, according to the international law, is one sovereign state and any use of the frozen assets, it’s like piracy on the high seas,” Kaim said on Friday.

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The fund, agreed to at a meeting of the International Contact Group on Libya on Thursday, is aimed at giving opposition forces an emergency lifeline in the absence of a source of financing. Oil exports from the country’s opposition-held east have virtually ground to a halt in recent days.

Initially, the fund will receive international donations, with Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister, saying that $250 million is already immediately available in the form of humanitarian aid.

The opposition could also get access to blocked Libyan assets worth $60 billion in Europe and the United States, but Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, has warned that this route “poses legal problems”.

Juppe did say, however, that the new fund seeded with international donations could be operational “within weeks”.

Wealthy Arab states such as Kuwait and Qatar have pledged to be major donors to the fund, and on Friday Barack Obama, the US president, called Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti emir, to discuss the situation in Libya and to thank him for his country’s $180 million pledge of assistance.

The funds are still far less than the $3 billion sought by the opposition, but their Benghazi-based Transitional National Council (TNC) said that figure represents a “six month budget”.

Misurata fears

Even as tribal leaders called for the amnesty law, pro-democracy forces in the western town of Misurata said that they were bracing themselves for a ground assault by troops loyal to Gaddafi.

Suleiman Fortiya, the Misurata representative on the TNC, warned on Friday that pro-Gaddafi troops were gathering in the town of Zliten, outside Misurata, and that fighting had already broken out there and in suburban areas around the besieged Misurata.

“I am sure there will be a lot of fighting on the ground in the future. That is what Misurata is worried about because [Gaddafi] is doing a big preparation to march on Misurata,” he said.

“This army will be coming from Zliten and most likely will come wearing civilian clothes.”

A resident of Misurata told the AFP news agency that there had been clashes on the outskirts of the city, including in the suburbs of Tumina in the east, Tuya in the west and Giran in the south.

NATO has continued its air campaign against pro-Gaddafi targets, striking at several targets west of Misurata on Friday.

Meanwhile, a resident of the western town of Zintan told AFP that a number of Grad rockets had hit the rebel-held town on Saturday, and that fighting was ongoing in Riayna, a few kilometres to the east.

War crimes allegations

Amnesty International has said that the government’s two-month siege of Misurata, which is Libya’s third largest city, may amount to a war crime.

“The scale of the relentless attacks that we have seen by Gaddafi forces to intimidate the residents of Misurata for more than two months is truly horrifying,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty’s senior adviser.

“The findings of our investigation so far are that the forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi have committed widespread violations of international law in Misurata as well as elsewhere in the country. The attacks … are indiscriminate attacks on the civilian population – that is to say, rocket attacks, attacks with artillery, with mortars as well as the use of cluster bombs in civilian populated neighbourhoods within Misurata,” Rovera told Al Jazeera on Saturday.

Rovera said that she had witnessed tanks parked between houses in Misurata in areas recently vacated by pro-Gaddafi troops, indicating that they had been using the residential areas to shield themselves from NATO airstrikes.

“Shielding is a war crime,” she said.

She added that there were “widespread” reports of disappearances from Misurata, as well as reports of women being sexually assaulted or raped by pro-Gaddafi troops.

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