By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Libyan opposition fighters battled Muammar Qaddafi’s forces at the oil port of Brega as Western powers stepped back from the idea of supplying weapons to the rebels and pushed, instead, for a political solution.
British media reports say an envoy of Muammar Qaddafi’s government has been in London for secret talks aimed at mapping out an exit strategy for the Libyan ruler.
The reports said Mohammed Ismail, a senior aide to Qaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, held talks with British officials during a recent visit.
The British Foreign Office has not confirmed the reports, which come as several senior Libyan officials defected from Qaddafi’s regime.
The most senior of them, Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, fled to Britain on March 30. And a second senior official in Qaddafi’s government, Libya’s representative to the United Nations, defected on March 31.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said in London on March 31 that the defection of Koussa and others from Qaddafi’s elite ruling circle suggested diplomatic efforts aimed at weakening Qaddafi’s regime are working.
“The fact that [Koussa] has decided to leave and effectively defect and give up his role I think speaks volumes of what’s happening in that regime,” Cameron said.
“We’ve been appealing to people around Qaddafi and saying, ‘If you don’t want to go down with this regime that is doing dreadful things to its own people, then leave now, split away now, give up now.’ And it is heartening that someone has done that.”
Qaddafi’s Forces Still Hold Edge
In Washington, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff told a U.S. Congressional committee on March 31 that coalition air strikes had “seriously degraded” Qaddafi’s military capabilities.
But Admiral Mike Mullen said the success of the air campaign so far did not mean that Qaddafi’s forces were close to the breaking point. Rather, he warned, Qaddafi’s troops still have 10 times the firepower of opposition forces.
On the ground in Libya today, Mullen’s assessment was apparent as fighting continued at dawn near Brega, about 800 kilometers east of Tripoli. Government troops on March 31 had beaten back an opposition offensive on Brega.
Correspondents report seeing rebels moving rockets and other equipment forward toward Brega early today as they sought to regain momentum against the better equipped government forces.
However, Libya’s army still appeared to have the upper hand in the fighting, with government forces now controlling the important oil ports and terminals at Ras Lanuf and Brega.
Field commanders for the opposition said neither side had been able to control Brega — one of a series of oil towns along Libya’s coast that has been taken and retaken several times by each side in recent weeks.
That has made the coastal road to the east of Brega a front battle line in Libya’s civil war. Rebel commanders continue to call for air strikes by coalition forces that are enforcing a UN-mandated no-fly zone over Libya.
But Mullen said bad weather has been hampering the air campaign in recent days, and weather along Libya’s coast was overcast today.
China, Germany Call For Political Solution
Meanwhile, Germany and China today issued a joint statement calling for renewed effort toward a political, nonviolent solution of the conflict in Libya.
During a visit to Beijing, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and his counterpart, Yang Jiechi, said there could be no military solution. Both countries abstained from a UN Security Council vote two weeks ago that approved the imposition of a no-fly zone over the Middle Eastern country.
That visit comes after NATO officials on March 31 said the alliance did not support U.S. and British suggestions that the UN mandate for the international operation allows the supply of weapons to Libya’s opposition fighters.
Speaking in Stockholm, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that NATO’s mandate was to protect civilians from attacks by Qaddafi’s forces.