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Libyan rebel leader says Moammar Gadhafi cornered

TRIPOLI, Libya — A top official of Libya's transitional government said Wednesday that its fighters had cornered Moammar Gadhafi in a desert redoubt 150 miles from the capital and were exhorting him to give up, in what would bring a sense of finality to the prolonged uprising that routed him and his family from Tripoli a week ago.

But one of Gadhafi's fugitive sons, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, threw a new if improbable taunt at the rebels even as they said they had closed in on his father, vowing in an audio statement that loyalists would never surrender and insisting that "victory will be near."

"Our leadership is fine," he said in the statement broadcast on the Al Rai television channel of Syria and other Arab broadcasting outlets. "We are drinking tea and coffee."

Seif al-Islam gave no indication in the statement of his precise whereabouts, except that he was in a Tripoli suburb, and it was not clear if his remarks had been prerecorded. But the statement itself raised the possibility of more fighting and underscored the ability of the Gadhafis to frustrate the alliance of rebel forces that has become the effective government of Libya.

Earlier on Thursday, Abdul Hafith Ghoga, the deputy chairman of the rebel Transitional National Council, said in a telephone interview from his home in Benghazi that fighters believed they had located Gadhafi hiding in Bani Walid, a desert town southeast of Tripoli.

There was no way to corroborate Ghoga's claim on the location of Gadhafi.

The transition government formed by the rebels has given Gadhafi relatives and their loyalists until this Saturday to stop fighting without conditions.

Ghoga also confirmed reports that another Gadhafi son, Saadi el-Gadhafi, had offered to negotiate a coalition government with the rebels, but that the rebels rejected that out of hand.

Ghoga laughed out loud when asked about Saadi el-Gadhafi's overtures. "They have no choice, Gadhafi has no choice, he has to surrender by Saturday."

Another Gadhafi son, Khamis, was reported killed when he and a group of bodyguards tried to break through a rebel checkpoint on the road to Bani Walid, rebel fighters in the area have told journalists, but his death has never been verified.

Rebel forces have massed on the outskirts of Bani Walid, but have stopped advancing during a unilateral cease-fire declared by the rebels for the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday.

The rebels also have moved closer to the coastal city of Sirte, Gadhafi's hometown and another of his rumored refuges.

The call to surrender was earlier rejected by a spokesman for Gadhafi, Moussa Ibrahim, in a telephone call to the Associated Press in New York. "No dignified, honorable nation would accept an ultimatum from armed gangs," the AP quoted him as saying.

As they secure growing acceptance abroad, the rebels' readiness to press their demands showed the extent to which they have been emboldened by the NATO-backed military advances that helped to sweep them into Tripoli.

At the same time, the rebel leadership, struggling to unite bands of fighters and ensure security in the capital and elsewhere in the country, appeared to reject the need for international peacekeepers. "We don't now expect military observers to be requested," said Ian Martin, a United Nations special envoy for post-conflict planning in Libya, Reuters reported. "It's very clear that the Libyans want to avoid any kind of military deployment of the U.N. or others."

Libyan rebel leader says Moammar Gadhafi cornered 08/31/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 31, 2011 11:24pm]
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