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UN envoy in talks with Libyan rebels, Khadafy regime

Sides meeting separately in Tunisia

By Bouazza Ben Bouazza and Karin Laub
Associated Press / August 17, 2011

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ZAWIYA, Libya - The United Nations’ special envoy for Libya said yesterday that he was meeting with representatives of both sides of the conflict, days after rebels made a dramatic advance that brought them within 30 miles of Moammar Khadafy’s stronghold in the capital of Tripoli.

A Tunisian security official said the discussions late Monday centered on a “peaceful transition’’ in Libya. The official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said the rebels reacted angrily to the proposal, with one member of their delegation throwing a shoe during the meeting to show his deep disdain.

Abdel-Elah al-Khatib, Jordan’s former foreign minister, arrived in the Tunisian capital of Tunis on Monday for the meetings with representatives of both Khadafy and the rebels. He said there were no direct negotiations as he met the two sides separately in the neighboring country. He did not identify those he met or say what they discussed, speaking to reporters after a meeting yesterday with Tunisian Foreign Minister Mouldi Kefi al-Khatib.

The Tunisian security official said the UN envoy might also meet with a representative of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Chavez’s envoy has been on the Tunisian isle of Djerba for the past few days.

Back in Libya, a rebel advance over the weekend into the strategic city of Zawiya on the Mediterranean coast, put the opposition force in the strongest position since the six-month-old civil war began to attack the capital. Residents were fleeing Tripoli and other cities on the coast in long lines of cars, fearing the fighting would soon reach them.

The Obama administration said Monday that the US was encouraged by the rebel advances and hoped they had broken a months-long stalemate with Khadafy’s forces.

In a sign of the regime’s growing distress, US defense officials said Libyan government forces tapped into their stores of Scud missiles this weekend, firing one for the first time in the conflict. No one was hurt. The missile was fired toward a second front line in the east of the country around the town of Brega.

The missile launch was detected by US forces shortly after midnight Sunday and the Scud landed in the desert about 50 miles outside Brega, said one US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations. It was launched about 50 miles east of Sirte, a city on the Mediterranean coast about 230 miles east of Tripoli. Sirte is Khadafy’s hometown and a bastion of support for him.

Noting that Scuds are not precision guided missiles, officials said they couldn’t tell if Brega was the target.

Yesterday, rebels and Khadafy forces fought for control of Zawiya on a main road leading from Tunisia in the west to Tripoli. Rebels are trying to cut off two major supply routes into the capital from Tunisia in the west and another in the south.

The routes are critical with NATO imposing a no-fly zone over Libya. Rebels said Monday they also cut oil pipelines from Zawiya to Tripoli. Oil-rich Libya’s only functioning refineries are in Zawiya.

Medics at a field hospital on the outskirts of Zawiya said that 15 people were killed the day before in an artillery strike.

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