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Correspondent Debriefer: Inside View of Situation in Benghazi, Libya

  • Susan Yackee

A rebel walks inside a destroyed weapons dump near Benghazi, March 5, 2011

A rebel walks inside a destroyed weapons dump near Benghazi, March 5, 2011

Fighting in Libya between forces aligned with and against Moammar Gadhafi shows no signs of abating. Now, the opposition, which has established itself in the city of Benghazi, is claiming it has rejected an offer from government officials to negotiate conditions for Gadhafi to step. Susan Yackee spoke about this offer with Phil Ittner, our correspondent currently in Benghazi.

Ittner: The information coming out of the opposition leadership here in Benghazi is twofold. Firstly, they claim that the Gadhafi government actually approached them with an offer of negotiations that would include Moammar Gadhafi stepping down, if he is allowed to leave Libya with his riches and his money, and that there would be a guarantee of no repercussions for his family.

So, the opposition government is basically saying that that was the approach that the Moammar Gadhafi government brought to them, and the opposition government said that it rejected the offer outright, because the Gadhafi regime, in their words, had blood on its hands, and that there will be no negotiations with the regime in Tripoli due to the recent bloody attacks on the civilian population.

In addition to that, the opposition government here – the National Assembly as they are calling themselves – say that a delegation did arrive [to meet with them] from Italy, and that the delegation met with the leadership here in Benghazi to try to [explore] ways to get international recognition.

They would not go into great detail about what those talks involved, but the spokesman for the opposition group said that the delegation has left for Italy again presumably carrying the message from the National Assembly that would, in their eyes, hopefully lead to international recognition, which would possible pave the way for international assistance in the opposition’s efforts to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi.

Yackee: We have no confirmation of the Gadhafi offer, do we?

Ittner: There is no independent confirmation of the Gadhafi offer. This [information] is coming from the National Assembly and the opposition spokespeople. There is an awful lot of propaganda going on, an awful lot of very questionable information on both sides of the equation. This is today’s bit of information. If it is indeed true, then this would play right into the opposition’s hand. So one has to take into consideration their motivation for releasing this information that perhaps Gadhafi had approached them for negotiations.

Yackee: What about troop preparations?

Ittner: We have seen here in Benghazi a number of young men coming to makeshift training camps to receive military training, not only for [use of] AK-47s, but for larger things, such as tanks or anti-aircraft weaponry. These men tend to range in age from their late teens to their early 20s. They are eager; they are ready to go to the front. Many of them are ready to go as soon as possible, even after just a few hours of training.

The military trainers here, many of whom are former army conscripts or army officers, are going to be training them, they say. Some of the more sophisticated weapons systems, such as tanks and armored vehicles, will take a longer period of time, but with some of the smaller weapon, they say, it could be a matter of hours or days. But certainly in the immediate days they are thinking of getting these men out to the front lines.

In addition, we spoke to some of the younger conscripts, who are very determined and recognize what they are putting themselves up for - I spoke to a young man here, who spoke passable English – and I asked him: “Are you willing and ready to kill fellow Libyans?” And with a very determined and almost emotional look in his eyes he said: I am willing to killing my fellow Libyan if he stands with Gadhafi.” This is a fight, in his words, between good and evil, and he was willing to take up arms if it meant overthrowing the government in Tripoli.