Rebels Offer Bounty for Qaddafi as Journalists Are Freedhttp://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/25/world/africa/25libya.html?_r=1&hp
TRIPOLI, Libya — Buoyed by their seizure of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s fortress-like compound in Tripoli, rebels sought to strengthen their control on Wednesday, placing a nearly $2 million bounty on the Libyan leader’s head and dispatching fighters toward one of his last bastions of support, his tribal hometown of Surt.
In another sign that Colonel Qaddafi’s regime had come unglued, loyalists holding more than 30 foreign journalists captive in a Tripoli hotel abruptly let them go.
“We are free,” Matthew Chance, a CNN correspondent, told his network as he and the others were allowed to depart the Rixos hotel with the aid of Red Cross workers who took them away. The journalists had been held captive there since the weekend, when rebel forces first invaded Tripoli in what has proved to be a decisive turn in the six-month-old conflict.
But as a reminder that he remained on the loose, Colonel Qaddafi said in an address broadcast early Wednesday on a local Tripoli radio station that his retreat from the Bab al-Aziziya compound, which rebel forces overran on Tuesday, was only a tactical maneuver.
He blamed months of NATO airstrikes for bringing down his government and vowed “martyrdom” or victory in his battle against the alliance. Urging Libyan tribes across the land to march on the capital, he said: “I call on all Tripoli residents, with all its young, old and armed brigades, to defend the city, to cleanse it, to put an end to the traitors and kick them out of our city.”
“These gangs seek to destroy Tripoli,” he said, referring to the rebels, who began taking control of Tripoli late on Sunday. “They are evil incarnate. We should fight them.”
In the eastern city of Benghazi, base of the rebel uprising, the head of the rebel Transitional National Council told a news conference Wednesday that Libyan businessmen had contributed 2 million dinars, about $1.7 million, for the capture of Colonel Qaddafi dead or alive.
“We fear a catastrophe because of his behavior,” the rebel leader, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, told reporters there.
The rebel leaders in Benghazi also called on loyalists in Surt, more than 200 miles east of Tripoli, to join them, and said they had directed rebel fighting units to close in on Surt from Misurata in the west and the port city of Ras Lanuf in the east.
In a possible further sign of loyalist disarray, Al Arabiya television reported that the rebels had taken control of an army base in Zuara, a coastal city about halfway between Tripoli and the Tunisian border. There was no immediate confirmation of the report about the army base, Mazraq al-Shams, which had been heavily contested for days. But there were news reports Tuesday night that Tunisian authorities had closed the main border crossing with Libya because of fighting in the Zuara area.
Journalists in Tripoli said they heard the sound of renewed NATO airstrikes against unspecified targets early on Wednesday, and many citizens stayed at home as rebels blasted the skies with volleys of celebratory gunfire. A relief ship sent by the International Organization for Migration to pluck foreigners to safety was unable to dock because “the situation is still too volatile” around the port, said a spokeswoman for the Geneva-based organization, Jemini Pandya. “We had to abandon the effort tonight and will try again tomorrow,” she said.
While rebels have acknowledged that Tripoli is not under their full control, the storming of the compound represented the fruition of an oft-repeated rebel vow: “We will celebrate in Bab al-Aziziya,” the ultimate seat of power in the Qaddafi government. The conquest was spearheaded by hundreds of experienced fighters from the port city of Misurata, who developed into some of the rebels’ best organized and most effective units after months of bitter fighting with elite loyalist forces.
Jubilant rebel fighters made off with advanced machine guns, a gold-plated rifle and Colonel Qaddafi’s golf cart. One took the distinctive fur that Colonel Qaddafi wore in his first public appearance after the uprising began six months ago.
As diplomacy accelerated in the new dynamics surrounding the conflict, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France met with Mahmoud Jibril, the Libyan rebel organization’s prime minister, in Paris. Mr. Sarkozy told journalists afterward that he had offered medical assistance and said “we are prepared to continue military operations as long as our Libyan friends need them.” France was the first country to recognize the Benghazi-based rebels and played a central role in the NATO air campaign along with the United States and Britain.
At the United Nations, the United States requested a meeting of the Security Council to discuss a resolution that would release up to $1.5 billion of frozen Libyan assets for use by the rebels, news services reported.
President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia, whose country has opposed the NATO effort, raised the possibility that Moscow might recognize the rebel administration, but called for negotiations to end the fighting. “Despite the successes of the rebels, Qaddafi and his supporters still have a certain influence and military potential,” he told journalists after meeting in Siberia with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il. “In essence, there are two powers in the country.”
The rebels must consolidate their control of the country in order for Russia to consider recognizing their government, he said.
“If the rebels have enough strength and opportunities to unite the country for a new democratic start, then naturally, we will consider establishing relations with them,” Mr. Medvedev said.
In a further maneuver, China on Wednesday urged a “stable transition of power” in Libya and said it is in contact with the rebels Benghazi-based National Transitional Council, Reuters reported, suggesting that Beijing’s allegiance has shifted. China “respects the choice of the Libyan people and hopes for a stable transition of power,” Ma Zhaoxu, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said in a statement.
“We have always attached significance to the important role of the National Transitional Council in solving Libya’s problems, and maintain contact with it,” Mr. Ma said. China had maintained close economic ties with the Qaddafi regime and withdrew tens of thousands of its workers at the start of the conflict, news reports said. It remained unclear on Wednesday when the leaders of the rebel council would transfer their operations from Benghazi to Tripoli, as they have said they plan to. Rebel leaders plan to meet in Qatar on Wednesday with senior envoys from the United States, Britain, France, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, Reuters reported.
Rebel leaders acknowledged Tuesday that their forces in Tripoli are not under any unified command. Some are simply Tripoli residents who have taken up guns, and have little or no military experience. And rebels from the western mountains fight in independent brigades from each town or tribe, spraying its name — “Zintan” or “Nalut” — as they go.
Rebel military commanders said that aside from the area around Bab al-Aziziya, they believed that only two other neighborhoods of Tripoli remained under the control of Qaddafi loyalists. One is Al Hadba. The other is Abu Salim, which included the Rixos Hotel, where the foreign journalists, which included representatives of The Associated Press, BBC, Reuters and Chinese television, were released around midday.
The foreign captives had also included the former District of Colombia representative in Congress, Walter E. Fauntroy, who had been visiting Tripoli during the rebel invasion. The precise reason for his visit there was unclear. The death toll in Libya has been impossible to assess. It is also unclear how many rebel fighters are in Tripoli, in part because so many young men from the city are now brandishing automatic rifles. The rebels from the western mountains number a few thousand in tribal bands of 600 or more, and the Misurata fighters were said in unconfirmed reports to number around 500.
Rebel leaders struggled to explain how their leaders in the eastern city of Benghazi misled the world two days ago when they falsely reported the capture of Colonel Qaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam, one of the most powerful figures in his father’s government. He embarrassed the rebels early Tuesday by walking freely into the Rixos Hotel and boasting that his father was still in control and inside the city.
At a news conference in the Qatari capital, Doha, Mr. Jibril, the rebel prime minister, said it was essentially a misunderstanding, suggesting that Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, had mistaken an early notification of an unconfirmed rumor for an official report of Seif al-Islam’s capture. There was no explanation why the misunderstanding went uncorrected for two days.
The rebels’ reversal about the Qaddafi son’s capture led to some finger-pointing among the rebels. “I learned not to trust the people from Benghazi who are telling me these stories,” said Anwar Fekini, a rebel leader from the western mountains who had repeated the news Monday.
As for the reported capture of another Qaddafi son, Mohammed, Mr. Fekini confirmed reports that he had escaped and acknowledged some responsibility. Mohammed had played little role in the Qaddafi political machine, so Mr. Fekini said he and others agreed to place him under house arrest.
“Unfortunately it was naïve,” he said. “We are too humane to be warriors.”