Libyan rebels pressed offers of a $1.7 million reward and amnesty for any regime loyalist who delivers Muammar Qaddafi to them dead or alive.
Rebels said they were meeting little resistance yesterday as they closed in on Qaddafi’s coastal hometown of Sirte amid a broad hunt for the Libyan leader, while his loyalists shelled towns in the south. The search for Qaddafi intensified as rebels battled pockets of his supporters in Tripoli after claiming most of the capital Aug. 23, including his Bab Al Aziziya compound.
“We are witnessing the death throes of the Qaddafi regime,” U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters in London yesterday. “It is time now for Colonel Qaddafi to stop issuing delusional statements and to recognize that that has happened, that control of the country is not going to return. He should be telling his dwindling and remaining forces now to stand down.”
Rebel spokesman Colonel Ahmed Bani said the rebel leadership has promised amnesty for anyone who kills him or hands over Qaddafi, according to the Associated Press. The chairman of the rebels’ National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, said the rebel leadership supports the initiative by a group of businessmen in Tripoli offering the 2 million dinar bounty on Qaddafi, according to Agence France-Presse.
‘The Revolution Has Won’
“The revolution has won and the only thing left is for Qaddafi to be captured or killed at the hands of the revolutionaries,” Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, a council member, said in a telephone interview from Benghazi.
Opposition forces raised their flag over Qaddafi’s compound Aug. 23 after weeks of stalemate in the six-month conflict. He vowed “martyrdom” or victory, calling on his supporters to “cleanse” Tripoli of “rats” in a recording aired early yesterday by a local radio station, Al Arabiya television reported.
The conflict has all but halted oil exports from Libya, which has the largest proven reserves of any African country. Output dropped to 100,000 barrels a day in July, down from the 1.6 million barrels pumped before the uprising started.
Brent gained 25 percent to $126.65 a barrel in the first two months of the conflict. While it tumbled as much as 3.2 percent on Aug. 22 as anti-government forces declared an end to Qaddafi’s 42-year rule, it has since rebounded 3.8 percent.
Brent gained 84 cents, or 0.8 percent, to $110.15 a barrel on London’s ICE Futures Europe Exchange yesterday after trading as high as $111. West Texas Intermediate oil, the U.S. benchmark grade that is less sensitive to overseas production, slipped 28 cents to settle at $85.16 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, based on the October contract. Prices are up 20 percent over the past year.
Qaddafi’s deputy head of intelligence, Khalifa Mohamed Ali, said he defected to join the opposition. Ali, speaking on Al Arabiya, said he didn’t have any information on Qaddafi’s location and isn’t in touch with him.
Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, told reporters in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, where President Barack Obama is vacationing, that there is “no evidence to indicate” Qaddafi has left Libya.
“Our fight in Libya, as a Libyan people, is not over yet,” Mahmoud Jibril, the rebel council’s prime minister, said in Paris yesterday after meeting with President Nicolas Sarkozy. “Qaddafi’s forces are still relentlessly shelling some of the south’s cities,” and “many of the pockets and the remnants of the regime are still carrying out shootings and assassinations even in the streets of Tripoli.”
Rebels started negotiating Aug. 23 with tribal leaders in Sirte for “safe entry” to the city without fighting as many of Qaddafi’s forces left to head south, Fathi Baja, a rebel-council member, said by phone yesterday from the eastern city of Benghazi. No results have been reached yet, he said. Rebels control more than 85 percent of Tripoli, according to Baja.
With their recent battleground gains, rebel leaders have started taking steps to begin a transition period. Council Chairman Abdel Jalil has said he was sending a delegation to Tripoli to prepare for the body’s move from Benghazi to the capital in the west. He told Italian newspaper la Republica that Libya will be ready to hold democratic elections within eight months.
Hunting for Qaddafi
A group of council members will head to Tripoli on Aug. 26, and the rebels have already set up a “security operations room” to direct the hunt for Qaddafi and his sons and “secure the city’s entrances,” Baja said.
“It will take a few days or a week to liberate all of Libya, including the south,” Baja said. “Qaddafi will win only in his dreams. If he wants martyrdom, let him seek martyrdom.”
Foreign journalists held by armed men at the capital’s Rixos Hotel were freed yesterday and taken by the Red Cross to another hotel, Al Arabiya television said.
Four Italian journalists were kidnapped yesterday near Zawiyah, just west of Tripoli, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.
Sarkozy, at a joint news conference with Jibril, called yesterday for an international conference to be held in Paris on Sept. 1 with the aim of releasing frozen Libya funds. Jibril said the funds are needed to begin reconstruction.
Sarkozy said France is ready to provide medical aid to Libya and will continue to have a military presence there “as long as our Libyan friends need it.”
The U.S. is working to release as much as $1.5 billion of frozen Libyan assets in the U.S., State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a briefing in Washington.
Arab foreign ministers meeting in Doha Aug. 23 called on the United Nations Security Council to permit the release of $2.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets to be used to meet humanitarian needs before the holiday of Eid al-Fitr in a week, marking the end of the Muslim fasting period of Ramadan.
A total of about $165 billion in Libyan government assets has been frozen worldwide.