Gaddafi mobilises tribal support

by our Arab Affairs correspondent

IMPERIALIST warplanes are continuing to pound Libya despite renewed United Nations calls for a halt in fighting to allow the delivery of aid, amid reports that hundreds of fleeing African migrants were left to die in the Mediterranean after a number of Nato air and sea units apparently ignored their cries for help.

Libyan government forces are holding the line along the coastal road to the rebel-held provincial capital of Benghazi in the east. Libyan rebel leaders have flown to Washington for talks with key US senators this week and they claim they’ve pushed the loyalists out of the environs of the western city of Misrata and its airport.

UN chief Ban Ki Moon has called for “an immediate, verifiable ceasefire” in Libya and said Muammar Gaddafi’s government had agreed to another visit by a special envoy. The UN secretary-general said he spoke with Libya’s prime minister by phone late Tuesday to urge a ceasefire and demand unimpeded access for UN humanitarian workers there.

He also called on Gaddafi’s forces to stop attacking civilians.

Ban also called on all patrol ships off the Libyan coast to help prevent more tragedies like the apparent deaths of all 600 African migrants aboard an overcrowded ship to Europe that broke apart within sight of the Libyan capital.

“I’m disturbed by accounts of people fleeing the fighting, losing their lives at sea,” Ban said. “I ask patrol vessels in the Mediterranean not to wait for distress signals to offer help. Any boat leaving Libya should be considered a boat in need of assistance and protection.”

A number of movements representing African immigrants in Europe, including the Federation of African Workers in France (FETAF), and the Association of Guineans residing abroad (AGRE), have expressed their outrage at the Nato air strikes on Libya and have called for an end to the fighting and the immediate acceptance of a political solution under the auspices of the African Union.

Meanwhile a French lawyer has moved to prosecute Nato for war crimes in Libya including the killing of Gaddafi’s son and his three grandchildren. Philippe Missamou has filed a complaint in Brussels against Nato for war crimes and crimes against humanity, accusing the Atlantic Alliance of violating the rules of armed conflict in its actions in Libya particularly the protection of civilians.

Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi has denounced Nato’s bombardment of his country as a breach of the UN Charter. The Libyan premier condemned Nato’s actions when briefing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and Greek premier George Papandreou over the phone on the devastating consequences of the bombing campaign.

The air strikes carried out by the alliance have obviously exceeded the scope of the UN mandate and constitute a violation of international law and the UN Charter, al-Mahmoudi said, calling Nato’s action a “serious and sustained” infringement and “an aggression against the Libyan people”.

Though Nato has welcomed Ban Ki Moon’s ceasefire call they clearly seem to think this should only apply to loyalist forces. Nato bombs and missiles are continuing to rain down on Tripoli targeting government compounds, toppling a telecommunication tower and hitting other public buildings.

But the Gaddafi government has been mobilising tribal support inside the rebel controlled eastern province of Cyrenaica and claims that an underground loyalist movement is now operating within the heart of the rebel capital seemed to be backed when a car bomb exploded near the rebel’s headquarters in the heart of Benghazi last week.