NATO Rejects Qaddafi Truce Offer, Clears Mines From Misrata Port - San Francisco Chronicle
(See EXTRA and MET for more on Middle East unrest.)
April 30 (Bloomberg) -- The North Atlantic Treaty Organization said Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's forces must stop their attacks on civilians before it considers his latest offer of a cease-fire.
"Just hours before Colonel Qaddafi spoke of a truce, his forces indiscriminately shelled Misrata, killing many people, including children," said a NATO official who declined to be named, citing policy. "All this has to stop, and it has to stop now."
NATO foreign ministers have made it clear that the alliance will continue operations "until all of Qaddafi's forces, including his snipers, mercenaries and paramilitary forces, have returned to their bases," said the official.
Qaddafi said he'll stay in the North African nation where his people want "martyrdom or victory" in the face of a rebel insurgency that began in mid-February.
"I don't have a post to leave," Qaddafi said in a speech on Libyan state television broadcast by Al Arabiya television today. "If I had a post, I would have ended like Mubarak or Ben Ali," he said, referring to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia's President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who were forced to step down in the face of popular protests earlier this year.
Misrata Mines Cleared
Qaddafi's forces yesterday fought rebels for control of a border crossing with Tunisia and mined the harbor of Misrata to block the only outside access to the besieged coastal city.
The mines were laid two to three kilometers (1.2miltes to 1.9 miles) offshore, detected by NATO, and are now being disposed of onsite, NATO said in a statement posted on its website. The temporary closing of the port prevented two humanitarian ships from docking, NATO said.
"The mining of a civilian port by pro-Qaddafi forces is clearly designed to disrupt the lawful flow of humanitarian aid to the innocent civilian people of Libya," Italian Navy Vice Admiral Rinaldo Veri said in the statement.
Veri also asked civilian shipping companies to continue their coordination with NATO to ensure the safety of maritime transport in the region.
Thousands of people have died in more than two months of violence in Libya, which began with an uprising in the eastern city of Benghazi. In his speech, the Libyan leader blamed terrorists for leading the fight against his regime and said he would agree to a cease-fire if the extremists can be convinced to introduce a truce.
The insurgency has helped push oil prices up more than 30 percent. Crude oil for June delivery rose $1.07 to settle at $113.93 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange yesterday. Futures have risen 6.8 percent this month. Qaddafi said no one can force him to leave Libya and said outsiders won't control the nation's oil, Africa's biggest proven crude reserves.
Fifteen trucks with Qaddafi's troops entered Tunisia's border town of Dehiba yesterday during a clash with rebels in which "dozens" were killed, state-run Tunis Afrique Presse said. The Libyan soldiers were disarmed and released by Tunisian forces, Al Jazeera television reported. Rebels regained control of the border post on the Libyan side, Al Arabiya said.
Alliance jets yesterday targeted 17 ammunition storage bunkers near Sirte and Zintan, a command building and artillery near Tripoli and an armored fighting vehicle near Brega, NATO said in a statement.
Gene Cretz, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, told reporters at the State Department this week that Qaddafi's forces "have been especially brutal" in the western mountains "where there has always been a suspicion on the part of Qaddafi toward the Berber groups." Berbers are a non-Arab indigenous minority.
Cretz said officials have seen estimates of as many as 30,000 people killed in the Libyan conflict since mid-February.
The United Nations refugee agency is "very concerned that people fleeing Libya could be caught in the crossfire as government and opposition forces battle for control in the border area," spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said on the website of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
In the past month, more than 30,000 people have fled the fighting in the western mountains and crossed into Tunisia at Dehiba, according to the UNHCR. More than 3,100 people, including many Berbers, crossed the border on April 27 alone, according to UNHCR staff.
--With assistant from Jihen Laghmari in Tunis, Nadeem Hamid in Washington and Ewa Krukowska in Brussels. Editors: Ann Hughey, Christian Thompson.