Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Libyan Rebels Seek Deal Over Town Seized by Pro-Gaddafi Loyalists

Libyan defense minister seeks deal in seized town

By RAMI AL-SHAHEIBI, Associated Press

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — The Libyan defense minister held talks Wednesday with tribal leaders in a town overrun by locals loyal to former leader Moammar Gadhafi, an official said.

The recapture this week of Bani Walid, 90 miles (140 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli, was the first such organized operation by armed remnants of Gadhafi's regime.

But there were no immediate signs that the operation was part of some wider attempt to restore the family of Gadhafi, who was swept out of power in August and killed in the nearby city of Sirte in October. His sons, daughter and wife have been killed, arrested or have fled to neighboring countries.

Rather, the fighting seemed to reflect a rejection of Libya's new Western-backed authorities by a town that never quite accepted the rebel's rule,

It also highlighted the still unresolved tensions between those who benefited under Gadhafi's regime and those now in power — tensions that are tightly wound up with Libya's tribal and regional rivalries.

Bani Walid government representative Mubarak al-Fatmani said Wednesday that Defense Minister Osama al-Juwali was "seeking a solution" to the clashes between Gadhafi loyalists and forces of the new regime.

Bani Walid was one of the last Gadhafi strongholds captured by the new leadership late last year.

On Wednesday, brigades loyal to the ruling National Transitional Council held positions and checkpoints outside Bani Walid as al-Juwali held the talks with the tribesmen inside the town.

Before the town's takeover, a simultaneous outbreak of shootings in the capital and Libya's second largest city, Benghazi, raised authorities' concerns that other networks of loyalists could stage operations elsewhere.

The security woes add to the difficulties of the NTC, which is struggling to establish its authority and show Libyans progress in stability and good government.

The Bani Walid fighting erupted on Monday, when hundreds of well-equipped and highly trained remnants of Gadhafi's forces battled for eight hours with the local pro-NTC rebel brigade, known as the May 28 Brigade, said al-Fatmani, the town representative. The brigade was driven out and Gadhafi loyalists then raised their old green flag over buildings in the western city.

Four US-backed rebels were killed and 25 others were wounded, al-Fatmani said.

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