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Face to face contacts between Libya, U.S.--Russia criticizes U.S. for recognizing rebel TNC as legitimate Libyan govt--UK says existing regime members could play a role in any interim govt.

--Face to Face Contacts between Libya, U.S.

--Russia Criticizes U.S. for Recognizing Rebel TNC as Legitimate Libyan Govt

--UK Says Existing Regime Members Could Play a Role in Any Interim Govt

Libyan and U.S. officials met face-to-face, but while Tripoli said it was seeking talks with no preconditions, Washington said it delivered a clear message: Moammar Gaddafi must go. The secret meeting occurred at the weekend as Libyan government forces fought rebels for control of the oil port of Brega, which the insurgents said on Monday they now had surrounded in what would be a major boost to their campaign, Reuters reported. Tripoli denied this. The meeting was held "to deliver a clear and firm message that the only way to move forward is for Gaddafi to step down," a U.S. State Department official said. "This was not a negotiation. It was the delivery of a message." He said no more meetings were planned.

Libya said it welcomed discussions but only without preconditions. "Any dialogue with the French, Americans, British is welcome," government spokesman Ibrahim Moussa told journalists in Tripoli. "We will discuss everything, but do not condition your peace talks. Let Libyans decide their future." He said the meeting was in Tunisia on Saturday. The U.S. official said it followed repeated contacts from the Libyan leader's emissaries.

The rebels said they had routed most of Gaddafi's troops in Brega, which has an oil refinery and terminal, and encircled it in a boost to their campaign after weeks of stalemate. More than 40 people on both sides were reported killed in the fighting since late last week for a city which for months marked the eastern limit of Gaddafi's control. Rebel spokesman Shamsiddin Abdulmolah said its streets were strewn with landmines, making it hard to secure full control. "The main body (of Gaddafi's forces) retreated to Ras Lanuf," which lies to the west, he said by telephone from the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi. The government denied the claim. "Our brave soldiers are in Brega in their thousands and control it completely," spokesman Ibrahim said. He said the government had lost 30 soldiers over five days of fighting, but rebels had lost many times more. Abdulmolah said 12 rebels were killed and some 300 wounded on Saturday and Sunday. Most rebel forces were now past Brega and heading west.

Moscow Unease

Russia criticized the United States and others for recognizing the rebel leadership as the legitimate government of Libya, saying they were taking sides. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced U.S. recognition of the rebels on Friday, a major diplomatic step that could unblock billions of dollars in frozen Libyan funds. Brega has changed hands several times in the back-and-forth fighting along Libya's Mediterranean coast since the rebellion began in February. Libyan TV, in a bid to counter the rebel claims, showed what it said was footage taken on Monday of ordinary life in Brega, with students taking an exam and workers at a natural gas plant.

Gaddafi is refusing to step down despite the rebellion, NATO air strikes and defections of members of his inner circle. On Saturday--as his envoys met U.S. officials--he called rebels traitors and said he had no plans to leave the country. The slow progress of the rebel campaign has caused strains in NATO, with some member states pressing for a negotiated solution to end a conflict many thought would last a few weeks.

Airport Antenna Hit

NATO said it struck a military antenna radar system on Monday at Tripoli's main airport, but Libyan officials said it had purely civilian use. A NATO statement said the air traffic control radar at the civilian airport made NATO jets vulnerable to attacks by Libyan air defenses. "The antenna, which was previously used for civilian air traffic control, was being used by pro-Gaddafi forces to track NATO air assets in the airspace over Tripoli and to coordinate their own air defense early warning system," the statement said. NATO, which has bombed dozens of military radar sites in the four-month war, said the no-fly zone over Libya made it unnecessary to use the radar for civilian purposes.

But Naji Daw, acting director of air navigation at Tripoli International Airport, said two people were injured in Monday's control tower attack. Daw said this was the first strike against the civilian airport in Tripoli. Two missiles hit the top of the control tower, where the radar's rotating dish was located. Daw said the target was a Spanish-built surveillance radar that wasn't tracking planes but just receiving transponder signals from aircraft that emit them. "We lost a useful tool" he said. The radar "is used all the time by Red Crescent, Red Cross and U.N. flights, all civilian purposes."

On another front, in the Western Mountains region southwest of Tripoli, pro-Gaddafi forces exchanged artillery fire on Sunday with rebels in the village of Al-Qawalish, a rebel fighter manning a checkpoint there told Reuters. A rebel spokesman in the regional town of Zintan said rebels had repelled a bid by Gaddafi troops to enter the town.

UK

Members of the existing regime in Libya could play a role in any interim government that follows Gaddafi's departure, London said. British Foreign Secretary William Hague during an interview with the BBC following a meeting of the Contact Group in Istanbul said the TNC was interested in ushering in a new government in Tripoli through national elections. "This is a national council that intends to hold elections, to assemble an interim government once Gaddafi has gone, including the technocratic members of the existing regime, and to make sure that there is in every sense, in our sense, a legitimate governing authority," he said.

NATO forces are enforcing a U.N.-mandated no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilians from attacks by forces loyal to Gaddafi, wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity committed since February. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said following talks with members of the TNC in Istanbul that the rebel-backed leadership was serious about its commitment to a democratic government in Libya. Rasmussen added he was "impressed" with the TNC's respect for the rule of law.

NATO has carried out nearly 6,000 airstrikes since it took over command from a U.S.-led coalition. It claims to have hit hundreds of tanks, armored vehicles, guns, weapons depots, command and control centers and other targets, but it has failed to dislodge Gaddafi's regime. Only six of NATO's 28 members are currently taking part in the attacks, spearheaded by France and Britain.
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Title Annotation:LIBYA-REBELLION
Publication:The Daily Middle East Reporter (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 19, 2011
Words:1101
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