The fate of one of Muammar Gaddafi’s last bastions hung on negotiations on Sunday, as Libya’s new leaders called for the ousted strongman to stand trial in his homeland when captured.
“We are negotiating through the intermediary of tribal leaders who hope to convince the armed groups (loyal to Gaddafi) to surrender,” Abdullah Kenshil, chief of the National Transitional Council’s (NTC) negotiating team, said."We will protect them, we won’t do anything to them, we only want to try them, and they will have a fair trial."
A military commander earlier said talks aimed at securing the peaceful surrender of Gaddafi’s forces in Bani Walid had been abandoned and an assault on the oasis town southeast of Tripoli was imminent.
But Kenshil said he was awaiting a response from the pro- Gaddafi forces, who he said numbered between 30 and 50 men, “very well-armed, with machine-guns, rocket-launchers and snipers”.
He said the talks had been going on for several days. “At the beginning they said no, but now we are assuring them that we will protect them against any act of reprisal.”
A local spokesman for the NTC now holding most of Libya said the front line was 15 to 20km north of Bani Walid and that troops were just awaiting orders to advance.
“Saturday night the Gaddafi forces tried to move out. Our fighters responded and there were some clashes lasting a few minutes,” Mahmud Abdelaziz said.
The new government’s interim interior minister Ahmed Darrat said he was confident the town’s capture was imminent. “We expect Bani Walid to be freed today or tomorrow," he said.
The deputy chief of the military council in Tarhuna, north of Bani Walid, Abdulrazzak Naduri, said, “Everything depends on the negotiations. If they refuse (to surrender), we will advance, if the negotiations go well, we will enter and hoist the flag without a fight. It’s the last chance, we can’t extend our ultimatum again.”
On Saturday, Naduri said Gaddafi’s son Saadi was still in Bani Walid, along with other senior figures of the fallen regime, while prominent son Seif al-Islam had fled the town.
Civilians coming from Bani Walid said that most of Gaddafi’s forces had now fled, taking their heavy weaponry with them into the surrounding mountains.
NTC forces east of Sirte moved to disarm members of the Hussnia tribe suspected of loyalty to Gaddafi on Sunday.