Rabu, 6 April 2011

The Malaysian Insider :: World

The Malaysian Insider :: World

Libya rebels lack charismatic figurehead

Posted: 06 Apr 2011 06:35 PM PDT

Rebels gather at the front line between exchanges of artillery fire between them and forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi near Brega in eastern Libya on April 6, 2011. — Reuters pic

BENGHAZI, April 7 — Nearly two months into their struggle to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's rebels lack a charismatic political or military leader who can articulate their cause and act as a flag-bearer for the people.

The revolutionary movement has set up a transitional national council headed by Mustafa Abdul Jaleel and an "emergency crisis" team led by Mahmoud Jibreel.

But they and other senior officials keep a low profile and have barely spoken to media, let alone turned out on the streets to mix with the people who clamour every day for Gaddafi to go.

There is no equivalent of Fidel Castro, who masterminded the Cuban revolution, or even Corazon Aquino, a figurehead for the Philippine popular revolt of 1986 despite her lack of political experience.

The first appearance by a senior official before the media for weeks was by a man who for years was intimately connected to Gaddafi, former interior minister Abdul Fatah Younes.

He defected to the rebel side and is now in charge of the army. Younes spent a news conference on Tuesday berating Nato for what he saw as its slack performance in bombing Gaddafi's forces, even though without such support the uprising would almost certainly have been crushed already.

He offered no concrete assessment on the state of the war and how realistic the dream of taking Tripoli was.

Crisis team head Jibreel appears to be a mild-mannered man, whose name is on few lips.

Some of the foot soldiers say this is not a problem and shows the grassroots character of the uprising.

"There is no-one to lead us. The people are leading this revolution. It is in the people's hands," said Halin al-Enesi, 19-year old student taking part in rally in Benghazi, the cradle of the revolution.

Asked who he thought headed the movement, he said: "I think its Mustafa Abduljaleel. We need this for the outside world."

Mohamad Messmari, a 26 year-old engineer, also said the Libyan people themselves were spearheading the uprising.

"Mustafa is not our leader. But we need a leader to organise our army at the frontline," he said.

Rebel officials said the lack of visible leadership was not necessarily negative.

"This is a people's uprising against something extremely evil. You will see leaders emerging after we have achieved our goal," said Jalal Elgallal, a member of the council's media committee.

"The West should not be fixed on photo calls. A lot of these people are not interested beyond the point of getting Gaddafi out."

Courthouse to hotel

The leadership has now changed its main operating centre from the dilapidated courthouse on the Benghazi waterfront, festooned with banners and anti-Gaddafi posters, to the smart and secluded Al-Fadeel hotel.

There they receive envoys from Europe, the United States and elsewhere who are keen to know who exactly they are. A US envoy, Chris Stevens, met council members there yesterday.

"They want to find out more about us as part of our desire to secure recognition. The discussion revolved around the members of the council and their nature," senior council member Abdel Hafid Ghoga told a news conference.

Both the senior leaders are former Gaddafi men.

Mustafa Abdel Jalil was Gaddafi's justice minister but quit in February over what he saw as the excessive use of violence against protesters in Benghazi at the uprising's start.

He has sometimes leaned towards negotiating with Tripoli, an idea rejected by other officials.

Mahmoud Jebril has spent most of his career abroad. He was head of Libya's state economic think-tank but resigned after Gaddafi overruled his suggestions for liberalising the economy.

He leads rebel diplomatic efforts.

Other officials are mostly businessmen, lawyers and others professionals, often US or British-educated. The ranks of the rebel army and its supporters are filled with students and many unemployed people.

Starting from scratch

Officials stress the revolt was spontaneous, not planned, and structures and strategy have been created from scratch.

Under Gaddafi's rule, any political organising or protest was banned, so even basic organisation, including a reliable information flow, has been a struggle, they say in explaining the frequent chaos that occurs in day-to-day operations.

The movement is most clearly defined by what it stands against — Gaddafi, who they ceaselessly denounce as a tyrant, a killer and a plunderer of Libya's wealth.

Its avowed hopes for a new Libya envisage a constitution, elections, and rule of law in a pro-Western, secular and capitalist society.

They also hope Libya's oil riches — little of which have trickled down to the masses — would be used to rebuild the country.

Repeated confusion over the naming of officials hints at tensions within the council between those who want to move quickly to form a strong government and others who believe it would be illegitimate as long as the country is split in half.

Officials play down talk of policy disputes.

"Yes, there are some differences but that's normal. In principle everyone is going on the same direction," Elgallal said. "We are fighting a war, negotiating a system, keeping things going on the day-to-day level."

One dispute that did emerge was over the leadership of the armed forces.

Younes was initially named as its chief, then on March 24 Khalifa Hefta, a former Gaddafi officer who has sent many years in exile in the United States, was said to be in charge.

A week later Hefta was out of the picture and Younes was declared to be leading field operations.

Asked about his fate, Younes said: "Hefta is my colleague and my friend. He does not have an official position. However, there is a place for everyone who helps to promote the revolution." — Reuters

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Libya says Nato air strike hits major oil field

Posted: 06 Apr 2011 06:20 PM PDT

Rebel fighters fire rockets from the desert east of Brega on April 6, 2011. — Reuters pic

TRIPOLI, April 7 — Libya said a UN-mandated British air strike had hit its major Sarir oilfield killing three guards and damaging a pipeline connecting the field to a Mediterranean port.

"British warplanes have attacked, have carried out an air strike against the Sarir oilfield which killed three oilfield guards and other employees at the field were also injured," Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim told reporters.

There was no immediate official comment from Britain's Ministry of Defense on Kaim's comments about the field.

Earlier, Muammar Gaddafi's forces unleashed mortar rounds, tank fire and artillery shells on the western city of Misrata on as a French minister said Nato air strikes in Libya risked getting "bogged down."

Misrata, Libya's third city, rose up with other towns against Muammar Gaddafi's rule in mid-February, and it is now under attack by government troops after a violent crackdown put an end to most protests elsewhere in the west of the country.

Rebels are angry at what they perceive to be a scaling back of operations since Nato took over an air campaign, following an early onslaught led by the United States, France and Britain that at one stage tilted the war in the rebels' favour.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Gaddafi forces were making it harder for alliance pilots to distinguish them from civilians by hunkering down in populated areas. "The situation is unclear. There is a risk of getting bogged down," he said.

Juppe told France Info radio he would address the issue of tactics shortly with the head of Nato, adding Misrata's ordeal "cannot go on." Nato has accused Gaddafi of using human shields to make targeting harder for its warplanes.

Civil war in the vast North African desert oil producer ignited in February when Gaddafi tried to crush pro-democracy rallies against his 41-year rule inspired by uprisings that have toppled or endangered other autocrats across the Arab world.

Stalemate on the battlefield in eastern Libya, defections from Gaddafi's coterie and the plight of civilians ensnared in fighting or running out of food and fuel has spurred a flurry of diplomacy in pursuit of a peaceful solution.

But such efforts have made little headway, with the rebels adamant that Gaddafi step down while the government, aware of the limitations of Western intervention, has offered concessions hinting at democratisation but insists he stay in power.

Gaddafi hits rebel oil

In a blow to rebel finances, Gaddafi forces halted production at rebel-held oilfields in eastern Libya, a rebel spokesman said yesterday. Rebels want to resume exports to raise revenue for their uprising.

Oilfields in Misla and the Waha area were hit by Gaddafi's artillery on Tuesday and Wednesday, spokesman Hafiz Ghoga told reporters in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

The Liberian-registered tanker Equator sailed from Marsa el Hariga, near Tobruk, yesterday apparently with the first cargo of crude sold by rebels since the uprising began in February, shipping sources said.

UN-mandated air strikes have so far failed to halt attacks by the Libyan army in besieged Misrata, where residents said snipers on rooftops and tanks firing on populated areas of the city have had a devastating effect.

"Gaddafi forces have changed tactics and are using human shields in urban areas, including in Misrata," Britain's Foreign Office said yesterday.

The head of Libya's rebel army has condemned Nato for its slowness in ordering air strikes to protect civilians, saying the alliance was "letting the people of Misrata die every day."

Juppe said: "We've formally requested that there be no collateral damage for the civilian population ... That obviously makes operations more difficult."

But General Abdel Fattah Younes was adamant that Gaddafi was conducting massacres. "Day by day people are dying. Hundreds of families are being wiped off the face of the earth. Patience has its limits," he said.

Asked whether he found Nato's argument that it is trying to prevent civilian casualties convincing he said:

"No, it's not convincing at all. Nato has other means. I requested there be combat helicopters like Apaches and Tigers. These damage tanks and armoured vehicles with exact precision without harming civilians."

Nato on the defensive

Libyan officials deny attacking civilians in Misrata, saying they are fighting armed gangs linked to al Qaeda. Accounts from Misrata cannot be independently verified as Libyan authorities are not allowing journalists to report freely from there.

Rebel criticism has put the Western military alliance on the defensive, particularly over Misrata. Spokeswoman Carmen Romero said that "the pace of our operations continues unabated. The ambition and the position of our strikes has not changed."

Nato air strikes are targeting Gaddafi's military infrastructure but only to protect civilians, not to provide close air support for rebels, much to their dismay, as part of a no-fly zone mandated by the UN Security Council.

Relieving the siege of Misrata was a Nato priority but alliance officials conceded that Gaddafi's army was proving a resourceful and elusive target.

"The situation on the ground is constantly evolving. Gaddafi's forces are changing tactics, using civilian vehicles, hiding tanks in cities such as Misrata and using human shields to hide behind," Romero told reporters in Brussels.

Misrata yesterday faced another heavy bombardment.

"There was firing on three fronts today, the port in the east, the centre around Tripoli street and the west of the city. Mortars, tank fire, and artillery were used to shell those areas," rebel Abdelsalam said by telephone.

"Nato needs to either launch a serious operation to take out all the heavy armoured vehicles, including tanks ... If they don't want to do this, they should provide us with weapons to do it ourselves."

Meanwhile, living conditions in Misrata worsened.

"People are panicking, especially women, children and old people. Most people left their homes for safer areas and found refuge with other families," Abdelsalam said, adding:

"No fruit and vegetables have been available in Misrata for over 25 days, bread is also difficult to find. People are scared to go out because of the snipers and the indiscriminate shelling. The upper-hand is still with Gaddafi's forces."

Rebel gains in east

On the eastern battlefield, Libyan rebels regained ground in a new advance on the oil port of Brega yesterday but also accused Nato of inaction hindering their quest to oust Gaddafi.

Ill-trained insurgents thrust westwards to the contested port, recovering mostly desert terrain lost in a pell-mell retreat from Gaddafi's superior firepower the day before.

Rebels returning to the tiny outpost of al-Arbaeen, midway between Brega and their frontline town of Ajdabiyah, spoke of rocket duels close to Brega's port as both sides strived to end a ragged stalemate in the civil war.

Rebel Idriss Abdel Karim complained of a lack of Nato support. "(Government forces) are scared of Nato air strikes but Nato doesn't bomb anything in the first place," he said.

"There have been no air strikes. We hear the sound, but they don't bomb anything," said Hossam Ahmed, another rebel.

"What is Nato waiting for? We have cities being destroyed. Ras Lanuf, Bin Jawad, Brega, and Gaddafi is destroying Misrata completely," said Ajdabiyah resident Said Emburak. — Reuters

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