Libya offers truce to UN
Tripoli – Muammar Gaddafi’s regime offered a truce in return for an immediate Nato ceasefire a day before the International Criminal Court considers arrest warrants for rights abuses in Libya.
Gaddafi’s prime minister proposed the truce on Sunday to the visiting UN special envoy to Libya, Abdul-Ilah al-Khatib, as an anti-regime revolt entered a fourth month.
The head of Britain's armed forces, meanwhile, said Nato should widen its bombing campaign to ensure Gaddafi is unable to cling to power, while Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday called for negotiations to end the violence.
Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmudi, quoted by JANA state news agency, said after meeting Khatib that Libya wants "an immediate ceasefire to coincide with a stop to the Nato bombardment and the acceptance of international observers".
Libya, he added, was committed to the unity of its territory and people and that Libyans had the right to "decide on their internal affairs and political system through democratic dialogue away from the bombing threat".
Mahmudi accused Nato, which is enforcing a UN-mandated no-fly zone over Libya, of "abuses and violations" including "political assassinations, the unjust maritime siege, bombing of civilian sites and destruction of infrastructure".
Soon after Khatib arrived, several loud explosions shook the east of Tripoli and columns of smoke rose into the sky, residents reported from Tajura, an outlying suburb of the capital.
JANA reported "human losses and material damage" after Nato struck "military and civilian" sites in Zuara, west of Tripoli. A Nato spokesperson confirmed the alliance targeted military equipment in the city.
Rights abuse trial
"I can confirm we did attack this morning in the area of Zuara military equipments used by Gaddafi forces to target civilians," he said.
The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor said on Sunday he was "almost ready" for a Libyan rights abuse trial, as he prepared to apply for arrest warrants.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo is expected to ask ICC judges in The Hague to issue three arrest warrants on Monday, when the names of the accused could be revealed.
Diplomats have said Gaddafi would likely head the list.
"We are almost ready for trial," Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement. "The office collected good and solid evidence to identify [those] who bear the greatest responsibility."
General David Richards, Britain's chief of the defence staff, meanwhile told Britain's Sunday Telegraph more military action was needed against the Libyan strongman.
"The vice is closing on Gaddafi, but we need to increase the pressure further through more intense military action," he said.
The general said he wanted Nato member states to support the targeting of Gaddafi’s regime, not just targets which pose an immediate threat to civilians, such as tanks and artillery.
"The military campaign to date has been a significant success for Nato and our Arab allies. But we need to do more. If we do not up the ante now there is a risk that the conflict could result in Gaddafi clinging to power," Richards said.
Protests against Gaddafi’s 41-year autocratic rule began on February 15 and quickly escalated into a popular uprising, inspired by revolts in Tunisia and Egypt that toppled their respective hardline rulers.
Gaddafi ordered his forces to crush the uprising, prompting a rebellion that has claimed thousands of lives while seeing much of eastern Libya fall into the hands of insurgents who have vowed to march on Tripoli and topple Gaddafi.
On March 19, French, US and British forces, under a UN mandate to protect civilians, launched air strikes on Gaddafi’s forces in a campaign that was taken over by Nato on March 31.
Pope Benedict, after his weekly Angelus prayer in St Peter's Square, called for a peaceful resolution.
"I renew a pressing appeal that the voice of negotiations and dialogue be stronger than that of violence, with the help of international organisations that are looking for a solution to the crisis," he said.
On the battlefield, rebels made new progress in their advance from the western port city of Misrata, which they freed in fierce fighting earlier in the week from a two-month siege by Gaddafi’s forces.
An AFP correspondent said they had moved 20km in the east to reach the gates of Tavarga and in the west they reached the gates of the city of Zliten - their next main military target on the road to Tripoli.
In the rebels' eastern bastion of Benghazi, Jalal al-Gallal, a spokesman for their National Transitional Council, touted the achievements of the past three months.
"These three months have been very long," Gallal told AFP. "But we managed to secure the eastern areas, free Misrata and the mountainous regions in the west."
He added: "Gaddafi’s isolation is irreversible. And most importantly, we achieved freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of movement. Gaddafi’s biggest mistake was failing to understand how important these were for us."
But he also acknowledged that people in the east were losing patience that Gaddafi was still in power and that the military campaign against him had hit a stalemate.
"It is true, people are impatient. And euphoria could drop a little bit," Gallal said.
"After being optimistic, we have to start to be pragmatic. It is true, there could be some discontent."