Libya says it is prepared for free elections, leader’s role negotiable


Libya's Foreign Minister Abdul Ati al-Obeidi says his country is ready for elections under international supervision, and that Moammar Gaddafi's role was open for discussion. (Simon Denyer/THE WASHINGTON POST)
April 20, 2011

The Libyan government says it is prepared to hold free elections under international supervision after a transitional period of around six months, with the role of Moammar Gaddafi open for discussion.

Striking a significantly more dovish tone than other members of his government, Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul Ati al-Obeidi called for an internationally monitored cease-fire and said his government was ready to sit down and talk “with our brothers from Benghazi,” provided NATO stopped its campaign of airstrikes.

“After all, we are all Libyans, we are all brothers,” he said in an interview late Tuesday. “The blood is Libyan. Whoever is killed is dear to all of us.” Speaking to reporters from The Washington Post, the Guardian, BBC and ITN, he added: “We are sure that if this bombing stopped, and there is a real cease-fire, we could have a dialogue among all Libyans, about what they want, democracy, political reform, elections.”

The rebels headquartered in the eastern city of Benghazi last week rejected a peace plan proposed by the African Union along similar lines, saying they could not accept any proposal that did not include “the departure of Gaddafi and his sons from the Libyan political scene.”

But with the military campaign stalemated, and NATO divided over how deeply to get embroiled in the conflict, elements of the Tripoli government apparently are seeking to promote the idea that diplomatic solutions to the conflict need to be explored more deeply.

In an open letter published last week, President Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron said it was “unthinkable that someone who has tried to massacre his own people can play a part in their future government.” The letter said it would be an “unconscionable betrayal” of the Libyan people if the world were to accept that.

“The brave citizens of those towns that have held out against forces that have been mercilessly targeting them would face a fearful vengeance if the world accepted such an arrangement,” they wrote.

But Obeidi, who took over from Musa Kusa after his defection last month and has been leading his country’s efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis, said Gaddafi’s role should be left for the Libyan people to decide.

“When there is a cease-fire, the Libyans can then say publicly about the leader staying, and in what status, or retiring,” he said. “The U.S., Britain and France — sometimes those countries contradict themselves. They talk about democracy, but when it comes to Libya, they say he should leave. It should be up to the Libyan people. This should not be dictated from any other head of state. It is against the central principle of democracy.”

Rebels say the government’s offer of a cease-fire is hollow, with artillery, mortar and tank shells raining down every day on the besieged western city of Misurata. Many residents of towns under government control complain of a climate of fear fueled by widespread arrests of opposition activists and say they are afraid this will continue unless the Gaddafi family relinquishes control.

Obeidi ruled out a temporary pause in the shelling of Misurata to allow humanitarian aid into the city, saying this could only come in the context of a cease-fire across the entire country, monitored by international observers.

But at the same time, he said, Britain’s decision to send military advisers to aid the Libyan rebels would only make things worse.

“By sending military personnel or arms or air raids, they will exacerbate the situation and will encourage the other side to be defiant and to refuse any peace initiative,” he said.

Simon Denyer is The Post’s bureau chief in China. He served previously as bureau chief in India and as a Reuters bureau chief in Washington, India and Pakistan.
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