Al Jazeera obtains exclusive access to site where some of the fiercest fighting took place.
|There are talks of Gaddafi’s exit as NATO air raids diminish the long-time Libyan leader’s military capability [Reuters]|
Secret channels are being opened between the Libyan government of Muammar Gaddafi and British citizens with a view to ending the conflict, sources have told Al Jazeera.
Abdelati al-Obeidi, the Libyan deputy foreign minister, who has been leading the government’s diplomacy after Musa Kousa, the foreign minister, defected, gave hints on Saturday to Al Jazeera’s James Bays about the secret talks to end the war.
The Al Jazeera correspondent, who spoke to al-Obeidi on a flight to the southern Tunisian town of Djerba, said the Libyan official was quite guarded in his approach and said that “he really was not authorised to tell me what had taken place at this meeting”.
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“The deputy foreign minister did admit that he had come for talks which have been taking place with British citizens. He could not say what the talks were about but did say it was an exchange of views and a channel of communication being opened by them,” he said.
Though he denied that there was any talk of an exit strategy for Gaddafi, he said the government was willing to talk to the opposition in Benghazi, our correspondent said.
He quoted al-Obeidi as saying: “We want to end this war and we want to end soon.”
“It is an indication of British agenda playing quite a leading role here, and in this behind-the-scene process, probably British diplomats or members of MI6 may have been involved. Remember they [MI6] were also involved in Kousa’s defection about two months ago,” our correspondent said.
Britain denies talks
Britain has denied the reports that its officials were involved in any talks with Gaddafi regime.
British Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson said: “No representatives of HMG, or intermediaries, are involved in negotiations with the Libyan regime about a ceasefire. Our position is clear. Qaddafi must go, so that the Libyan people can determine their own future.”
The response from Britain has been reasonably low key, Al Jazeera’s Bays said.
“I have talked to a representative of the British foreign ministry, a spokeswoman, who said there have been no talks with British diplomats. She said ‘they were aware that meetings had taken place with the minister and British citizens but made it clear that they were not civil servants and not diplomats’.”
The reports of the ceasefire talks came just hours after NATO carried out a rare day-time air raid on the capital, Tripoli.
James Bays discusses the ‘talks to end the conflict’
A number of explosions were heard throughout the night into Saturday, and at least one of the blasts was said to be near a compound used by Gaddafi.
Columns of smoke were seen rising over the skyline of the city and loud booms could be heard.
State television said earlier that overnight NATO raids caused “human and material” damage near Mizda, to the south.
Discussing the reported secret ceasefire talks, Al Jazeera’s Tony Birtley, reporting from Misurata on Saturday, said: “The rebel fighters would not be in favour of any kind of ceasefire. They want Gaddafi to stand trial for crimes against humanity.”
Misurata – Libya’s third largest city – is now controlled by opposition forces and has been the scene of some of the fiercest battles in the conflict.
“On the ground there’s some kind of stalemate here,” our correspondent said. “The area, 35km west of Misurata, is free and relatively safe but the situation at the frontline is very fluid. There have been exchanges of fire here and Grad rockets fired from the Gaddafi forces.”
Misurata’s western outskirts were shaken by heavy fighting on Friday.
Doctors at the local hospital said five opposition fighters were killed and more than a dozen others wounded in the combat.