Libyan rebels begin attacks on strongholds
Interpol issues arrest warrant for Khadafy
TRIPOLI, Libya - Former Libyan rebels began attacking the loyalist holdouts of Bani Walid and Surt last night, a day before their own deadline for the surrender of those cities took effect.
“It’s full steam ahead right now,’’ said Abdulrahman Busin, a spokesman for the military.
The former rebels reportedly were inside Bani Walid but fighting continued, Busin said. The attack on Surt had just begun and the former rebels were still on the outskirts.
Busin said the Bani Walid attack took place early because loyalist forces inside the small city had opened fire on former-rebel positions outside. As for the attack on Surt, he said, “They may have pushed forward a few hours early simply because it was a strategic advantage.’’
Bani Walid, a city about 100 miles southeast of Tripoli, and Surt, which lies on the main coastal highway 200 miles east of the capital, are two of only four communities still under the control of forces loyal to Moammar Khadafy.
The fighting came after Interpol issued arrest warrants for Khadafy and two others yesterday, and after reports came from Niger of a new convoy of high-ranking Libyan officials arriving across the desert.
In Lyon, France, Interpol said in a statement that it had issued so-called red notices calling for the arrests of Khadafy, his son Seif al-Islam Khadafy, and Abdullah al-Senussi, chief of the former leader’s intelligence agency.
There was no suggestion that Khadafy or the two other wanted men were known to be among those who arrived in the latest convoy to Niger. The country has been under intense international pressure to turn over any former officials of the Khadafy government who arrive there.
Yesterday, an official in Niger said that the government would respect the Interpol notices and hand over the fugitives should they cross the border, Reuters reported.
Despite an international manhunt, the whereabouts of Libya’s top officials have been uncertain since rebels took Tripoli last month. Since then, Khadafy and his son have taunted the transitional government in audio messages and urged their loyalists to continue fighting. The Interpol notices, which were requested by the International Criminal Court at The Hague based on allegations of war crimes committed by the three men, require any of Interpol’s 188 member nations to arrest the suspects and turn them over to the court.
Among the member nations is Niger, which borders Libya on the south and has received a number of convoys of loyalist officials fleeing overland. No high-ranking figures in the former government have been confirmed to be accompanying them.
Yesterday, 14 Khadafy loyalist officials arrived in the northern Niger city of Agadez, including General Ali Kana, who is said to be a Tuareg tribesman in charge of Khadafy’s southern troops, according to a Reuters report. Tuareg tribesmen, who live on both sides of the Libya-Niger border in the Sahara, have been major supporters of the Khadafy government.
The group also included General Ali Sharif al-Rifi, commander of the Libyan air force, and two other top officials, who were said to be staying at the Etoile du Tenere hotel in Agadez, according to the news agency. The hotel is said to be owned by Khadafy.
Niger’s justice minister, Marou Amadou, confirmed that the two generals were in Agadez and were “being well guarded’’ but were not “in a building belonging to the state.’’
Late last month, two of Khadafy’s sons and his second wife fled to Algeria, which granted them asylum on humanitarian grounds, leading to criticism from Libyan transitional leaders. Algeria is also one of Interpol’s member countries, as are all of Libya’s neighbors.
Residents of Tripoli planned to converge on Martyrs’ Square last night to protest against people who had supported Khadafy until the very end and then switched sides.
Protesters who gathered in the late afternoon said that they did not want such people to retain or gain positions in government.
They also objected to the National Transitional Council’s minister of health, Naji Barakat. They that said he was a holdover from Khadafy’s time and that he was still acting as authoritarian as before.