In diplomatic overture, Gaddafi emissary meets Greek leader in Athens
By Karen DeYoung and Tara Bahrampour,
Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi launched a diplomatic initiative toward some members of NATO on Sunday, with the Greek government saying that a senior Libyan official met with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and planned to travel to Turkey next.
The Gaddafi regime was “searching for a solution,” Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas said, but he provided no details of the meeting with acting Libyan Foreign Minister Abdulati al-Obeidi. Droutsas added that his government would inform “all our partners and allies” about the Libyan proposals.
Obama administration officials, who were waiting to be briefed, said they had no comment on the plans. Obeidi, a former Libyan prime minister, has emerged in recent days as Gaddafi’s diplomatic point man.
In Benghazi, the de facto capital of the Libyan opposition, a Turkish ferry arrived carrying hundreds of people, many of them wounded fighters, from the western city of Misurata, where rebel forces have been under siege by Gaddafi loyalists.
The ship, traveling under the protection of Turkish military fighter jets and naval vessels, stopped in Benghazi to pick up more wounded en route to Turkey.
Droutsas said Obeidi planned to travel from Athens to Turkey, for meetings with government officials, and then to Malta, according to a report by the official Athens News Agency. The meeting with Papandreou, the Greek official said, had been arranged in a telephone call from Tripoli on Friday.
“On our part,” Droutsas said in a statement, “we underlined, we reiterated the clear message of the international community: full respect and implementation of the UN resolutions, immediate cease-fire, to end violence and hostilities, particularly against civilians in Libya. Judging from the emissary’s words, it seems that the regime is also searching [for] a solution.”
Obeidi told reporters in Tripoli on Friday, “We are trying to talk to the British, the French and the Americans to stop the killing of people. We are trying to find a mutual solution.”
Numerous Libyan officials are said to be in contact with Western officials, although it remains unclear who among them are seeking to leave the government and who are representing it. Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa defected last week to Britain, and a close aide to Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, met with British officials with a reported proposal from the Libyan leader to cede power to his sons.
The Obama administration and its allies and partners in the Libya operation have shown little interest in such offers. President Obama has described his demand for Gaddafi’s departure as a political objective, while the goal of the international military coalition, acting under the authorization of the United Nations, is to stop the violence and protect Libyan civilians.
Although NATO took over command of the Libya operation last week, some members have said that they would participate only in the noncombat aspects of the intervention.
U.S. officials have become increasingly resigned to the possibility of a military standoff on the ground, with opposition forces, under the protection of coalition airstrikes and a no-fly zone, holding the eastern part of the country while Gaddafi’s forces remain in control of the west.
The United States and its partners in the air operations remain nervous about arming the disorganized rebel fighters. Although officials have voiced confidence in the collection of lawyers and intellectuals who have formed an interim government in Benghazi, they are concerned about the identity and aims of others involved in the fight.
Gaddafi’s far larger and better-equipped forces thwarted the rebels’ attempts last week to move westward and pushed them back from towns they had taken along the central Mediterranean coast.
In Misurata, the only major town in western Libya to remain in rebel hands, weeks of urban warfare have clearly taken a toll. Passengers aboard the Ankara, the ferry arriving in Benghazi from Misurata, looked drawn and exhausted.
The passengers, protected by heavily armed Turkish police, offered a window into a town that for weeks has been cut off from the outside world.
“There’s no safe place in Misurata,” said Faraj Ahmed, 31, a doctor who was accompanying the wounded on their journey to Turkey. About 70 more wounded people were to be picked up from Benghazi.
The ship arrived in Misurata under cover from 10 Turkish air force F-16 fighter planes and two navy frigates, Reuters said, adding that thousands of desperate people, including several thousand Egyptians, tried to board there.
“There are bombs everywhere, in the homes, in the cars,” Ahmed said. “The situation is really bad. There is no food, no formula for babies.” Electricity had been cut off, he said. “Even with the airplane strikes” by coalition forces, he said, “Gaddafi’s people are killing people every day.”
Inside the ship, every cabin and lounge was strewn with injured people. The smell of diesel fuel mingled with the stench of sweat as harried medical personnel rushed by rows of the wounded.
Some of the injuries were gruesome. A young man sat on a mattress on the floor, a gaping hole where his nose had been. A man whose legs had been amputated lay on another mattress. Many said they were civilians and had been sitting in their cars or walking down the street when they were attacked.
Bahrampour reported from Benghazi.