By Arab News
Muammar Qaddafi, driven into hiding by his foes, on Thursday urged his supporters to fight on as dozens of world nations pledged to support Libya’s new leadership at a conference in Paris.
“Let there be a long fight and let Libya be engulfed in flames,” Qaddafi was quoted as saying in a message carried on Arabic news channels. “We will not give up. We are not women.”
The fugitive leader was speaking on the 42nd anniversary of the military coup that toppled King Idris and brought him to power in 1969 when he was a 27-year-old army captain.
There have been conflicting reports about Qaddafi’s location since his Tripoli compound was overrun on Aug. 23.
A senior military commander of the interim National Transitional Council (NTC) said Qaddafi was in a desert town outside Tripoli, along with his son Seif Al-Islam and intelligence chief Abdullah Al-Senussi, planning a fight-back. All three fugitives are wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity.
Abdel Majid Mlegta, coordinator of the Tripoli military operations room, told Reuters “someone we trust” had said Qaddafi had fled to Bani Walid, 150 km southeast of the capital, three days after Tripoli fell.
An Algerian newspaper said Qaddafi was in the border town of Ghadamis and had tried to call Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to appeal for refuge. Bouteflika would not take the call, even though Algeria gave sanctuary to Qaddafi’s wife and three of his children when they crossed the border on Monday. The NTC, trying to mop up pro-Qaddafi forces, extended by a week a Saturday deadline for the surrender of the coastal city of Sirte, Qaddafi’s birthplace, and other hold-out towns.
“That means there’s progress in the negotiations,” said Mohammed Zawawi, an NTC spokesman in the eastern city of Benghazi. “We’re not in a rush to get into Sirte. It has no economic importance and we’re not going to take casualties for it. We can cut supplies and wait, even more than a week.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron said NATO would continue operations for as long as needed to protect civilians in Libya, even after the ouster of Qaddafi.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said: “We are committed to returning to the Libyans the monies of yesterday for the building of tomorrow.”
Both spoke after leaders and envoys from 60 nations and world bodies such as the UN and NATO met in Paris for talks with the NTC leaders to map out Libya’s future.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the new Libyan leaders to jail the ailing Lockerbie bomber, while admitting that they face many other challenges, US officials said. “Her position … was no different in private than it’s been in public,” a senior State Department official said, after Clinton spoke with NTC President Mustafa Abdel Jalil.
She urged the new leaders Thursday to fight violent extremism and ensure Qaddafi weapons do not fall into the wrong hands.
Russia, which had criticized the NATO operation, gave a boost to the meeting by recognizing the rebels as Libya’s interim leadership hours before the talks started.
UN Chief Ban Ki-moon said Security Council should deploy a civilian mission in Libya as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, South African President Jacob Zuma, during his visit to Oslo, said his country disagrees with NATO’s military intervention in Libya, which is why it will take no part in Paris conference.
China’s official People’s Daily newspaper told the West to let the United Nations lead reconstruction in Libya and said Beijing would defend its economic stake there.
It may be hard to get reconstruction going and persuade foreign investors to return to Libya as long as Qaddafi remains at large and the NTC is not in full control of the country.
Mlegta said Qaddafi wanted to set up a base in Bani Walid to orchestrate attacks. Appeals to notables in the town to hand him over had gone unanswered. He said Ali Al-Ahwal, Qaddafi’s coordinator for tribes, was also in Bani Walid, a stronghold of the powerful Warfalla tribe, Libya’s biggest at about a million strong among a population of six million, but by no means solidly pro-Qaddafi.
“We are capable of ending the crisis but military action is out of the question right now,” Mlegta said. “We cannot attack this tribe because many of our brigades in Benghazi and Zintan are from Bani Walid. The sons of Bani Walid hold the key.”
Britain flew 40 tons of freshly printed bank notes, many bearing Qaddafi’s image, into Libya on Wednesday to help pay public workers and replenish bank cash machines.
The 280 million Libyan dinars, officially worth about $234 million, is part of a consignment worth about $1.5 billion blocked by Britain in March after Qaddafi cracked down on protests.
Meanwhile, rebel forces and armed civilians are rounding up thousands of black Libyans and migrants from sub-Sahara Africa, accusing them of fighting for Qaddafi and holding them in makeshift jails across the capital.
Virtually all of the detainees say they are innocent migrant workers, and in most cases there is no evidence that they are lying. But that is not stopping the rebels from placing the men in facilities like the Gate of the Sea sports club, where about 200 detainees — all black — clustered on a soccer field this week, bunching against a high wall to avoid the scorching sun.