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Boosted Libya rebels face Qadhafi threats

September 02, 2011

Moamer Qadhafi. - File Photo

TRIPOLI: Libya's new leaders won massive international support for their plans to rebuild the war-shattered country but faced threats of a long guerrilla war from defeated strongman Moamer Qadhafi Friday.

“Prepare yourselves for a gang and guerrilla war, for urban warfare and popular resistance in every town... to defeat the enemy everywhere,” Qadhafi warned from his hideout in one of two audio tapes aired on Arab satellite television.

Boosted by promises of billions of dollars in cash from unfrozen assets of the Qadhafi regime, the rebel National Transitional Council prepared to put into practice a road map for bringing democracy to Libya.

A council tasked with drafting a constitution for Libya should be elected within eight months and a president should be elected within 20 months, the NTC's representative in Britain, Guma al-Gamaty, told the BBC Friday.

He said the process of transition was already under way and the NTC would move properly to Tripoli from its original base in Benghazi within a few days.

For the first eight months, the council would lead Libya, at the end of which time a council of about 200 people should have been directly elected, Gamaty said, referring to plans drawn up in March and refined last month.

“This council... will take over and oversee the drafting of a democratic constitution, that should be debated and then brought to a referendum,” he said.

Within a year of the council being put in place, final parliamentary and presidential elections should take place.

Senior envoys from more than 60 countries met the leaders of the rebellion in Paris on Thursday to endorse the fledgling new regime and offer practical support.

But they also put the NTC on notice to pursue a path of reconciliation.

The Paris guestlist was a victory in itself for the NTC, as once sceptical Russia and China and Libya's reluctant neighbour Algeria agreed to back the new administration.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the rebels' most prominent backer from the outset, said that around $15 billion had already been unfrozen and more would follow.

Speaking alongside the NTC leaders, Sarkozy urged them to begin a “process of reconciliation and forgiveness.”

NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil said the Libyan peoples “proved their courage and their determination” in their fight to topple Qadhafi, but he also pleaded for stability.

“Now everything is in your hands,” he said in a message to the Libyan people. “It's up to you to accomplish what we promised: stability, peace and reconciliation.” Qadhafi, however, was having nothing of it.

“If they want a long battle, let it be long. If Libya burns, who will be able to govern it? Let it burn,” he said in the first of his two statements broadcast on friendly television channels 42 years to the day since he toppled the monarchy and seized power.

“The aim is to kill the enemy wherever he may be, whether he be Libyan or foreign,” he said in a relatively calm tone in his second message.

“Qadhafi's speech is a sign of misery and despair,” Ahmed Darrat, who is overseeing the interior ministry until a new government is elected, told AFP in Tripoli.

His foes say Qadhafi and his son Seif al-Islam may be in the town of Bani Walid, southeast of the capital and still held by loyalist troops, where some clashes have taken place.

But the NTC has put its assault on the centres still held by pro-Qadhafi forces, in particular his hometown of Sirte, on hold until September 10 to try to negotiate a peaceful end to the six-and-a-half month conflict.

East and west of Sirte, the attackers have halted their advance while talks with tribal leaders go on, but at the same time they are preparing for an assault.

An AFP correspondent in Qum Qandil, west of Sirte, where reinforcements have been pouring in, saw fighters carefully checking their heavy machine-guns and rifles and loading shells into clips ready for use.

Tanks, mortars and heavy artillery have also been deployed among the sand dunes behind the front line, ready for an opening barrage.

At the Paris conference, Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance would continue its six-month operation in Libya for as long as the civilian population was in danger.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he would work with the Security Council to agree terms for an immediate United Nations mission to deal with a possible humanitarian crisis and help rebuild the state.

“Our most immediate challenge is humanitarian,” he said.

“Roughly 860,000 people have left the country since February, including skilled guest workers. Public services are under severe strain... There is a major water shortage.”

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the rebels to beware of extremism in their own ranks and prevent weapons from falling into the wrong hands.

“The international community, led by the UN, needs to help the Libyan people and its leaders pave a path to a sustainable, inclusive democracy that banishes violence as a political tool and promotes tolerance," she said.