TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI, Libya: Abdul Elah al-Khatib, a Jordanian senator, will act as special U.N. envoy to Libya seeking to persuade conflicting parties there to accept a plan pursuant to which a cease-fire and a power-sharing government would be implemented, with no role for Moammar Gadhafi, a European diplomat said.
The diplomat said the informal proposals would be canvassed by Khatib who has met both the government and rebels several times.
The latter told Reuters in Amman he hoped both sides would accept his ideas.
“The U.N. is exerting very serious efforts to create a political process that has two pillars; one is an agreement on a cease-fire and simultaneously an agreement on setting up a mechanism to manage the transitional period,” he said, without offering any further details of that mechanism.
In public, the Libyan leader remained firm, telling supporters he would never countenance talks with the rebels who rose up in February to try to end his 41-year one-man rule.
“There will be no talks between me and them until Judgment Day,” Gadhafi told a crowd of thousands in his home town of Sirte in a remotely delivered audio message Thursday. “They need to talk with the Libyan people … and they will respond to them,” he said.
He has, however, said he welcomes talks with Western powers, with no preconditions. But Washington and Paris say they have given his officials the same simple message: Gadhafi must go.
Gadhafi has stepped up his defiant rhetoric amid persistent reports of talks. Pro-government rallies are being shown almost daily on state television, perhaps a reminder to outsiders that he can still command considerable support.
State television said Gadhafi would make another speech Saturday, this time addressed to Egyptians on the anniversary of their revolution – not this year’s, which toppled President Hosni Mubarak, but pan-Arabist Gamal Abdel-Nasser’s in 1959.
The rebels seem unlikely to quickly unseat Gadhafi, who came to power himself as a young revolutionary influenced by Abdel-Nasser, despite months of backing from NATO airstrikes, authorized under a U.N. resolution to protect civilians. Rebel foreign spokesman Ali Essawi said Mansour Daw, a key aide to Gadhafi, had been wounded in a rebel rocket attack on a meeting of Gadhafi’s inner circle in Tripoli Thursday.
There was no government comment and the report could not be independently verified.
Analysts say a stalemate has led to intensified diplomatic overtures, with France saying for the first time this week that Gadhafi could stay in Libya as long as he gives up power.
Essawi, in Rome for talks with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, was asked if rebels might accept that.
“The first principle for Libyans is that Gadhafi should step down, and announce this and make this very clear. After that, we can talk about details,” he told reporters, adding “Negotiations will be only on the departure of Gadhafi. We will not negotiate on his staying in Libya or ruling the Libyans.” The European diplomat, who declined to be identified, said talks had yet to start on Khatib’s plan, which foresees an immediate transitional authority made up equally of government members and rebels.
The authority would appoint a president, run the security forces and supervise a reconciliation process, leading to elections to an assembly which would write a constitution.
Gadhafi and his sons would be excluded from the authority since the rebels would never accept them, but his prime minister, for example, might have a role, the diplomat said.
Gadhafi would only accept a transition if his own fate were guaranteed, so he need not immediately be handed to the world court in The Hague which seeks his arrest over crimes against humanity allegedly committed by his forces, he added.
The rebels, who have struggled to arm and organize, have declared advances this week but also suffered losses near the town of Misrata, which they control, and in fighting for the eastern oil hub Brega.
They said Thursday minefields slowed their advance on Brega – which they had earlier claimed to have all but captured – but that they had pushed closer to Zlitan, on the Mediterranean coast 160 kilometers east of Tripoli.
A rebel spokesman near Zlitan called urgently for help for people in nearby Souk al-Thulatha who joined the rebels but were now besieged by government forces. “This is very dangerous for the course of the revolution,” he wrote in an online posting. Friday, rebels said that 16 anti-government fighters had been killed and another 126 wounded in two days of fighting for control of Zlitan. Meanwhile, officials said Friday that NATO had authorized civilian aircraft to use an air corridor between the rebel headquarters of Benghazi in the east and the Nafusa Mountains in the west.
“It started about a month ago. There are almost daily passenger flights, according to requirements, and they run with the permission of NATO,” an official in charge of flights said.
“We can call this an air bridge,” said the official who declined to be identified.
A road that cuts through fields is used as a runway, according to an AFP correspondent who toured the area but cannot identify the location for security reasons.
Less than a mile long and just 12 meters wide, the runway has a center line and yellow markings to signal its start and end, and is used as an ordinary road when there is no air traffic.
An AFP correspondent saw at least one multiple-rocket launcher deployed near the runway Friday.
Aircraft that use the runway can carry dozens of passengers, often members of the rebel National Transitional Council, the official said.
“The planes carry civilians, sometimes NTC members, as well as people who volunteer to work in hospitals, and transport medicine,” he said. “Never weapons.”
Would-be passengers must obtain permission from the local military council and undergo strict security vetting, the official added.
NATO enforces an air exclusion zone over Libya in line with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 to protect civilians from attacks by Gadhafi’s forces.