Rebels lay siege to Qaddafi stronghold

Libya: Rebel reinforcements converged outside one of Muammar Qaddafi’s last strongholds in Libya on Monday, even as the forces arrayed against the toppled dictator gave the town a chance to surrender and avoid a fight.Thousands of rebels have now reached Bani Walid, a desert town some 140 km southeast of Tripoli. Qaddafi himself has been on the run since losing his capital last month.Rebel forces, who control most of Libya and are setting up a new government, can’t declare total victory until Qaddafi is caught and areas like Bani Walid are subdued. So they have shown they are willing to be patient, perhaps hoping to avoid a bitter inter-tribal fight that could create lasting divisions.

The scene was calm early Monday, with rebels brewing tea and lighting cigarettes, at a checkpoint about 70 km from Bani Walid’s center. Then a convoy of nine trucks arrived, flying the independence-era tricolor the rebels have adopted. As his men fired rifles into the air and shouted “Allah-o-Akbar!” commander Ismail Al-Gitani said they were part of a larger force and that he was ordered to reinforce the northern approaches to Bani Walid.He refused to say how many fighters he had brought.”We won’t go inside Bani Walid unless the Warfala tribe invites us,” he said, referring to Bani Walid’s main tribe. “The Warfala have to lead us into Bani Walid. Hopefully no one will be shot. We don’t want to use our weapons. But if the Qaddafi loyalists shoot at us, of course we will return fire.”

The Warfala are believed to be about 1-million-strong, one-sixth of Libya’s population.Rebel commanders have said the door was still open for more talks about a surrender, but rebel negotiator Abdullah Kanshil said Monday that “there are no negotiations.” He added that rebels were talking to individual families in the town about urgent needs for water and food.The talks broke down, in part, because the loyalists insisted the rebels disarm before entering the town.The rebels have said the hard-core loyalists are a small minority inside the town, but are heavily armed and stoking fear to keep other residents from surrendering, telling them the rebels will rape their wives and daughters.

Meanwhile, the head of Qaddafi’s security brigades, Mansour Dhao, has crossed into Niger from Libya and is due to travel on to the Nigerien capital, Niamey, two Nigerien officials said Monday. The officials, who asked not to be named, said Dhao and more than 10 other Libyans crossed into Niger on Sunday after several days of talks while they waited at the border. – Arabnews