Tripoli: Libya’s new masters have offered a million-dollar bounty for the fugitive Moammar Gadhafi, after he urged his men to fight on in battles across parts of the capital.
A day after rebel forces overran his Tripoli headquarters and trashed symbols of his 42-year rule, scattered pockets of loyalist diehards kept the irregular fighters at bay as they hunted Gadhafi and his sons. Rebels also reported fighting deep in the desert and a standoff round Gadhafi’s tribal home town.
In Tripoli, rockets and shooting largely kept civilians indoors and gunfire rang out in the centre into the night. Most were anxious but hopeful the war would soon end, and with it the worsening shortages of food, water and medical supplies - for hundreds of wounded and sick.
“Gadhafi’s forces and his accomplices will not stop resisting until Gadhafi is caught or killed,” said Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the rebels’ National Transitional Council (NTC), who offered amnesty to any of his entourage who killed the fallen strongman and announced a reward worth over $1 million for his capture.
“The end will only come when he’s captured, dead or alive,” Abdel Jalil said in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi. Until then, he said, Gadhafi would not give up easily and could still unleash a “catastrophic event”. In a poor-quality audio tape broadcast by satellite on Wednesday, Gadhafi, 69, urged Libya’s tribes to “exterminate traitors, infidels and rats”.
There was no clear indication of where Gadhafi is, though his opponents surmised he was still in or around Tripoli after what Gadhafi himself described as a “tactical” withdrawal from his Bab al-Aziziya compound before it was captured on Tuesday.
But Western leaders and the rebel government-in-waiting have lost no time readying a handover of Libya’s substantial foreign assets. Funds will be required to bring relief to war-battered towns and to develop oil reserves that can make Libya rich.
After talks with Arab and Western allies in Qatar, a senior rebel leader said the NTC would seek to have $5 billion in frozen assets released to jump-start the country’s economy and provide vital relief to its citizens. The amount is higher than a previously given estimate of $2.5 billion.
Meanwhile, the United States (US) submitted a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to unfreeze $1.5 billion in Libyan assets. No vote was held on the draft on Wednesday, but diplomats said a vote could come on Thursday or Friday. Another meeting was scheduled for Thursday in Istanbul.
Rebels also spoke of bringing back workers to restart oil export facilities soon. While Libya is rich in oil, four decades of rule by personality cult has left it with few institutions of normal governance.
The rebels, many of whom were once supporters of Gadhafi, stressed the wish to work with former loyalists and officials and to avoid the purges of the ousted ruling elite which marked Iraq’s descent into sectarian anarchy after 2003.
Their gains are however no guarantee of security or progress with Gadhafi and his entourage at large. Abdel Salam Jalloud, a close ally who switched sides last week, said Gadhafi planned to drop out of sight and then launch a guerrilla war. “He is sick with power,” he said. “He believes he can gather his supporters and carry out attacks. He is delusional. He thinks he can return to power.”
However, some of his loyalists have already quit. The second in command of Libya’s intelligence services and health minister declared their allegiance to rebel forces during interviews aired on Al Arabiya television.
There were signs of other supporters giving up on him, following a stream of defections during the six months of the uprising. At Tripoli’s Rixos hotel where loyalist gunmen had been preventing nearly 40 foreigners, mostly journalists, from leaving, gunmen relented on Wednesday and let them go.
After by far the bloodiest of the Arab Spring revolts that are transforming the Middle East and North Africa, there were clear indications, too, of new threats of disorder. Four Italian journalists had been kidnapped near Zawiya, between Tripoli and the Tunisian border.
Western officials also fear weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles and nuclear material capable of making a “dirty bomb”, could be taken from Gadhafi’s stocks and reach hostile groups.
Imposing order and preventing rivalries breaking out across tribal, ethnic and ideological lines among the disparate rebel factions are major concerns of both the new leaders and of their Western backers, who are working to avoid the anarchy and bloodshed that followed the overthrow of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.
Meeting rebel government chief Mahmoud Jibril in Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy was the first Western leader to bask in the gratitude of Gadhafi’s opponents, who noted how Sarkozy took a lead in pushing for North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) military intervention.
France will persevere with military operations in Libya for as long as needed by the rebel forces, Sarkozy said, adding Paris will host a “Friends of Libya” summit on 1 September. It would include Russia and China, both critics of the Western bombing campaign which have been concerned at now losing out on business deals with the rebels.
Fighters who swept in to Tripoli at the weekend, uniting several fronts and a variety of opposition groups, were trying to establish order in the city, but faced pockets of resistance and there were signs of looting. Snipers kept up fire from high buildings, including around Gadhafi’s compound. Rebels blasted back with anti-aircraft guns mounted on pickup trucks. “There are still many snipers in eastern Tripoli,” said one rebel fighter. “We’ll finish them off but it’ll take time.”
Aymen, a rebel at the Mitiga airbase in Tripoli, said rebels were trying to fight their way into the Abu Slim area, not far from Gadhafi’s fallen Bab al-Aziziya complex. “They are surrounding it but Gadhafi loyalists are putting up a fight, firing from inside. We continue to comb for supporters of the fallen regime,” he said by phone.
Gadhafi’s tribal home town of Sirte, on the coast between Tripoli and Benghazi, was still not in the hands of the new leadership who have dispatched forces there. Nor was the southern city of Sabha, where the rebels reported fighting.
Meanwhile, government buildings were being stripped of anything of value. The images on Arab satellite TV of rebels grabbing the props of Gadhafi’s power, could invigorate other revolts in the Arab world, such as in Syria where President Bashar al-Assad has launched military crackdowns on protesters.
At Bab al-Aziziya, fighters were still going through buildings and coming out with sniper rifles and ammunition, which they distributed among their ranks.
But medical supplies, never especially plentiful, were reaching critical levels in many places where some of the hundreds of casualties from the fighting were being treated. Shooting in the street also kept medics away from work.
“The hospitals that I’ve been to have been full of wounded - gunshot wounded,” said Jonathan Whittall, head of the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) mission to Libya. “In one health facility that I visited, they had converted some houses next to the clinic into an inpatient department. But because of the shortage of staff, there was no nursing staff and the patients were essentially caring for themselves.”