Libya minister says al Qaeda and West split country

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:38 PM
Libya minister says al Qaeda and West split country

By Maria Golovnina

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa said on Monday that about 300 trained al Qaeda fighters formerly held in Guantanamo Bay were supporting rebel forces in the eastern part of the country.

Addressing a news conference, he also accused Western powers of trying to help the rebels split Libya. A British diplomatic team said to include special forces left Benghazi on Sunday after being held shortly by rebels surprised by their visit.

Kusa said al Qaeda fighters who re-armed after being released from the United States prison in Cuba made up the core of the military threat presented by the rebel forces.

"They are now fighting in eastern Libya, their methods and approaches are clear," he said. "When they were released, they started moving again and they have taken weapons."

Kusa said Britain, France and the United States had contacted rebel forces with an eye toward splitting the country. "It's clear they are getting in touch with the defected people of eastern Libya. It's clear there is a conspiracy to divide Libya," he said.

"The English are yearning for the colonial era of the past," he said. "The first nations who started getting in touch with the secessionists were the English, also the French and the Americans."

"The conspiracy has become clear," he added. "There's no doubt about it. Otherwise, why would the Americans or the French or the English contact the secessionists?"

Separately, the Tripoli government admitted for the first time that a small group of rebels was still putting up resistance in Zawiyah, a town 50 km (30 miles) west of the capital that it had previously said was under its control.

"There are still elements hiding in the streets, 30-35 of them," government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim told journalists.

"The atmosphere is tense in the city. These people are not from the city, there are no tribal leaders to convince them to lay down their weapons."

Swiss-based exile group Libyan Human Rights Solidarity said forces loyal to Gaddafi had launched a new attempt to capture Zawiyah but this could not be verified because residents in the town were no longer reachable by phone.

(Writing by Tom Heneghan, editing by Diana Abdallah)