Libyan diplomatic drive

by our Arab Affairs correspondent

THE LIBYAN government has launched a diplomatic drive to end the imperialist-backed rebellion in the eastern province of Cyrenaica offering to discuss any change or political reform with the rebels. At the same time they reject foreign interference and they are insisting that Muammar al Gaddafi, or a member of his family, remain at the helm to preserve the unity of the country.

Libyan Information Minister Mussa Ibrahim, said his country was ready for a “political solution” with world powers and offered a “constitution, election, a referendum, anything. But the leader has to lead this forward”.

Meanwhile Nato warplanes continue to pound Libyan army positions in support of the rebel militia while the bloody stalemate continues on the ground. The rebels have once again been forced out of the eastern oil town of Brega by loyalist troops and they are desperately holding on central Misurata, their only stronghold in the west.

The defection of Libya’s foreign minister to Britain last week temporarily stalled Gaddafi’s diplomatic efforts to end the fighting. But the Libyan leader speedily appointed a veteran supporter and former premier, Abdulati Obeidi, to fill the gap. Within days Obeidi was heading a mission to Europe to meet Greek, Turkish and Maltese leaders and explore the possibility of a truce.

Turkey, in particular, has openly opposed the Nato bombing of Libya supposedly to enforce a “no fly zone” and blatantly to assist a revolt which would have been crushed last week if it wasn’t for the RAF and the French air-force. Instead Turkey has been providing humanitarian assistance in the rebel-held provincial capital of Benghazi.

The Turks want to generally enhance their position in the Arab world and they are well-placed to mediate with good contacts with the rebels and the Libyan government. The problem however is that neither side in the civil war is prepared to shift on the future role of the Gaddafi family.

“Both sides have a rigid stance,” a Turkish Foreign Ministry official said after Obeidi’s visit. “One side, the opposition, is insisting that Gaddafi should go. The other side is saying Gaddafi should stay. So there is no breakthrough yet.”

The rebel militias are clearly no match for the loyalists without Nato air-power but that has allowed them to firm up their economic grip on the oil industry in Cyrenaica, the eastern province that was the heartland of tribal support for the monarchy Gaddafi kicked out in 1969. The first shipment of rebel oil was loaded this week at the eastern port of Marsa el Hariga, near Tobruk and the Egyptian frontier, and well beyond the reach of loyalist troops. This will help to pay their fighters and the establishment of some sort of administration in the rebel-held province. But their longed for international recognition remains elusive. Though the rebels are being openly backed by US-led imperialism, under the guise of a UN mandate, only France, Italy and Qatar have recognised the “Transitional National Council” as the legitimate government of Libya so far.