Libya rebels: Gadhafi legitimate airstrike target

AP News
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Posted: May 12, 2011 2:19 PM
Libya rebels: Gadhafi legitimate airstrike target

The head of Libya's opposition said Thursday that Moammar Gadhafi is a legitimate target for rebel and NATO forces, but insisted his preference would be for the despot to be put on trial.

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, chairman of Libya's National Transitional Council, also told reporters that the country's opposition believed it could take its deadlocked military campaign into Tripoli, if fighters secure sufficient weapons.

"Gadhafi is the commander in chief of the armed forces, he is the one who is encouraging everybody to fight and we think there is justification for him to be a legal target," Abdul-Jalil said in London, following a round of meetings with British ministers and non-governmental organizations.

Abdul-Jalil held talks with Prime Minister David Cameron, Foreign Secretary William Hague and other senior officials in his first visit to London since the U.K. joined the NATO-led airstrikes against Gadhafi's regime.

NATO fighter jets pounded Gadhafi's sprawling compound in Tripoli and three other sites early Thursday, hours after he was seen on state TV in his first appearance since his son was killed nearly two weeks ago.

He said that the rebels were not encouraging NATO to kill Gadhafi and insisted he would be tried in Libya if arrested.

Abdul-Jalil also said rebels in Tripoli were in the process of acquiring weapons and predicted they would eventually contest Gadhafi's forces in the capital.

"Tripoli is surrounded both internally and externally, and every day its sons go out and execute a few limited operations, perhaps to acquire some weapons _ and you will see that Tripoli will rise to get rid of this regime," he said.

He declined to say which nations were supplying the opposition with arms, but said fighters in Misrata had received shipments of light weapons.

Britain said in talks it would supply police officers in rebel-held eastern Libya with uniforms and body armor, and help establish a public radio station. Cameron has said the U.K. would not supply arms to the opposition.

"We need light weapons, which is not equivalent to Gadhafi's weapons _ but perhaps with courage, which Libyans have _ there may be some kind of balance," Abdul-Jalil said, asking for help from other nations prepared to send arms.

Although the transitional council doesn't yet have the all weapons it wants, it was making gains on the diplomatic front _ securing a Friday invite to the White House. The U.S. announced that Mahmoud Jibril, a representative of the council, would meet with senior administration officials, including National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, as well as members of Congress. A meeting with President Barack Obama did not appear to be part of the schedule for Jibril and his delegation.

Neither the U.S. nor the U.K. have followed France and Italy in recognizing the council as Libya's legitimate government, but an invitation to the White House could be a political boost for its members. Back in London, Cameron said he had invited Abdul-Jalil to open a permanent office in London to cement contacts with Britain. However, the U.K. has not followed France and Italy in recognizing the council as Libya's legitimate government.

"These steps continue our very clear intention to work with the council to ensure Libya has a safe and stable future, free from the tyranny of the Gadhafi regime," Cameron said, following talks at his Downing Street residence.

Hague said Britain would appoint John Jenkins, ex-British ambassador to Iraq, to head up a permanent U.K. mission in Benghazi.

In Rome, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said he expects the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for Gadhafi at the end of the month. Frattini said that would be a "key moment" in the Libya crisis, suggesting that after the warrant is issued it would be impossible for Gadhafi to agree to an exile.

Italy has long maintained the future of Libya cannot include Gadhafi or family members.

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on Feb. 26 to refer the Libyan crisis to the International Criminal Court.