The U.S. envoy to Libya’s opposition Transitional National Council says the TNC is gaining ground politically and on the battlefield, and that the downfall of Moammar Gadhafi is just a matter of time. Diplomat Chris Stevens says the TNC has pledged to improve its human rights performance after international criticism.
Stevens, in Washington for consultations after four months in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, is dismissing reports of a stalemate in the Libyan conflict. He says the departure of Moammar Gadhafi is inevitable. “All I can say is the world is lined up against him, and his base is shrinking. The TNC forces are closing in around him. So are sanctions and other things. So I think everybody agrees it’s a matter of time," he said.
The veteran diplomat has become a defacto ambassador in Benghazi after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced last month that the United States has granted the TNC diplomatic recognition as the governing authority of Libya.
The Libyan rebel movement has since been rocked by the killing, under still-mysterious circumstances, of its military commander General Abdel Fatah Yunes, and complaints by human rights advocates that it has executed or mistreated captured Gadhafi loyalist soldiers.
Stevens, who said he discussed the alleged abuses Tuesday with Human Rights Watch, said the TNC’s military is still a loose coalition of sometimes-quarreling militia groups. But he said the TNC leadership is committed to bringing its forces under full centralized control. “They really need to be careful about maintaining their unity and keep the focus on Gadhafi’s ouster. And they understand that message very well, and they have told us that they are going work hard to bring the militias under the control of the security ministry which they have set up, and under the army as well, and hopefully that will work," he said.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, says there have been some “egregious” cases of prisoner mistreatment by TNC forces that have been raised with leaders of the rebel movement. “One thing I can say for the TNC is that they have been very responsive to the concerns we’ve raised. They have committed to investigating, they have committed to doing a better job of supervising their forces, to training their forces, and to establishing better detention procedures, due process procedures, for captured Libyan forces," she said.
Whitson said a Human Rights Watch team has been given permission by the Gadhafi government to visit Tripoli to investigate what have clearly been severe rights abuses by pro-Gadhafi forces. “We have seen indiscriminate attacks on civilians, the use of landlines in civilian areas, prohibited landlines in and around civilian areas, the arbitrary arrests and detention or rebels including some who were taken from hospitals, and little respect for the laws of war which, of course, the Libyan government forces should be much better equipped and well-prepared to understand and respect and abide by," she said.
Whitson said the Gadhafi government’s use of landmines is particularly “shocking and disappointing,” because that country has suffered for decades from the legacy of mines left over from the Italian colonial era and the World War II North Africa campaign.