Friday, April 22, 2011

Libyan army 'to pull out' from Misurata

Libyan troops are to leave Misurata as the US approves the use of armed drones in the fight against government forces.

(Al Jazeera) - Khaled Kaim, Libya's deputy foreign minister, has said that pro-government forces will withdraw from Misurata, leaving the tribes to deal with the rebels.

"The situation in Misurata will be dealt with by the tribes around Misurata and Misurata's residents and not by the Libyan army," Kaim told journalists late on Friday.

"We will leave the tribes around Misrata and Misrata's people to deal with the situation, either using force or negotiation."

Kaim said the Libyan army had been given an "ultimatum" to stop the rebellion in the western city, 200km east of the capital Tripoli.

"There was an ultimatum to the Libyan army: if they cannot solve the problem in Misurata, then the people from (the neighbouring towns of) Zliten, Tarhuna, Bani Walid and Tawargha will move in and they will talk to the rebels. If they don't surrender, then they will engage them in a fight."

Kaim's announcement is a turning point for the besieged city, which has come under heavy fire from forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Fears of stalemate

It comes as John McCain, a US senator who is one of the strongest proponents in the US congress of American military intervention in Libya, said he was worried the battle between Gaddafi's troops and rebel forces was reaching a stalemate that could "open the door to radical Islamic fundamentalism".

McCain also denied during a visit to Benghazi concerns about the possibility of extremist or al-Qaeda elements fighting alongside the pro-democracy forces, telling Al Jazeera "they [opposition fighters] are my heroes".

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US military's joint chiefs of staff, offered a similar assessment.

"We're watchful of it, mindful of it and I just haven't seen much of it at all. In fact, I've seen no al-Qaeda representation there at all," he said during a visit to the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

Mullen acknowledged that the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which waged a failed armed uprising against Gaddafi's rule in the 1990s, had "stirred a little bit".

He said air strikes had hobbled Libyan forces, but admitted the conflict was moving into "stalemate" as Gaddafi's troops pressed on with their punishing siege in the western city of Misurata.

Need for transitional government

McCain called on Washington to recognise Libyan rebels' transitional council as the true voice of the Libyan people and transfer frozen assets to them.

He also said that the NATO air campaign should be intensified, adding that Western allies should provide rebels with training, weapons and command-and-control activities to help overthrow Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's longtime leader.