Is Qaddafi Making Peace Overtures to Libyan Rebels?

Reports conflict on the Libyan leader's willingness to start talks about stepping down

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From his base in Tripoli, Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi is moving aggressively to repel rebels from the western part of the country, launching airstrikes on the opposition-held oil port of Ras Lanuf and retaking control of Bin Jawwad. But even as Qaddafi escalates his crackdown, reports are surfacing about the Libyan government reaching out to opposition leaders with a possible peace deal.

Former Justice Minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who heads the rebels' Transitional National Council in the eastern city of Benghazi tells AFP that Tripoli-based lawyers have offered to act as go-betweens, though Qaddafi has not sent an official envoy. The BBC, meanwhile, cites an opposition souce who says the the overtures were first made by Qaddafi's loyalists in Benghazi and then by a Qaddafi official from Tripoli.

What are the terms of the deal? According Al Jazeera, Qaddafi would step down as Libya's leader if he and his family were guaranteed safe passage out of the country and promised immunity from prosecution for war crimes. Qaddafi also wants United Nations assurances that he can keep his money. In past public appearances, Qaddafi has argued that he can't resign because he is merely a symbolic leader.

Libya's fragmented opposition, however, appears divided on the question of whether talks are underway. Jalil, of the Transitional National Council, has informed Al Jazeera that the opposition would not pursue Qaddafi criminally if the embattled ruler relinquishes power, halts the violence, and leaves the country within the next 72 hours. With Qaddafi in the country, Jalil says, no negotiations can occur. But a member of the February 17 Coalition, another opposition group, tells CNN that the opposition has drafted a series of counter-offers. Rebel leaders worry that the approaches are intended to drive a wedge between the opposition, and some protesters want to retain the ability to prosecute Qaddafi at a later time, the BBC explains.

The Libyan government is also sending mixed signals about negotiations. A Libyan foreign ministry official characterized reports that Qaddafi was willing to step down as "absolute nonsense," according to Reuters. And given Qaddafi's recent military advances, the BBC observes, "it is difficult to see how the Qaddafi regime would be in any mood to compromise or talk about succession." But Al Jazeera points out that a prominent government official appeared on state television on Monday and appealed to rebel leaders for "national dialogue to resolve this crisis" before foreigners have the chance "to come and capture our country again."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.