- The Washington Times - Monday, April 4, 2011

Cracks are emerging in Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s inner circle, raising the possibility that the Libyan dictator’s grip on power may be weakening after 42 years.

The regime appears split between two cease-fire proposals: one by Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, a son of and one-time heir apparent to the Libyan dictator, and the other carried by Deputy Foreign Minister Abdel Ati al Obeidi.

While the former plan envisions Col. Gadhafi stepping aside in favor of Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, a Greek official said Col. Gadhafi’s fate “was not an issue of discussion” with Mr. Obeidi in Athens on Sunday night, according to an Associated Press report.

Libyan rebels and Western officials have dismissed both proposals.

The proposals have pitted Col. Gadhafi’s sons against one another, shining a spotlight on an intense sibling rivalry.

Seif al-Islam Gadhafi’s plan is opposed by two of his brothers, Mutassim Gadhafi, the regime’s national security adviser, and Khamis Gadhafi, the Russia-trained commander of elite forces, according to a Libyan dissident, who spoke to The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity.

In another sign of panic, Col. Gadhafi, rattled by high-level defections, has placed members of his regime and their families under heavy guard on his military compound in Tripoli, according to defectors and former Libyan officials. He is holding families hostage to force officials to think twice about defecting, they said.

Even Col. Gadhafi’s close friends, Abubaker Younes and Abdul Salam Jalloud, have been put under house arrest. His brother-in-law and trusted confidant, Abdullah Senussi, is now also viewed with suspicion, the Libyan sources said.

The defection last week of Col. Gadhafi’s confidant and foreign minister, Musa Kusa, rattled the regime, according to some Libyans who were surprised that he fled to London, leaving his family behind. Reports of a firefight at the Gadhafi compound Bab al-Aziziya in Tripoli last week were followed by rumors that security forces had arrested Mr. Kusa’s wife.

“Musa Kusa’s defection shook the family very hard,” said Fadel M. Lamen, president of the American Libyan Council.

“We will see more splits, and ultimately the family will unravel,” he said.

The Obama administration on Monday lifted sanctions against Mr. Kusa.

David S. Cohen, acting under secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement that Mr. Kusa no longer will be subject to an asset freeze because he had severed ties with the Gadhafi regime.

“One of the intended purposes of sanctions against senior officials in the Libyan government was to motivate individuals within the Gadhafi regime to make the right decision and disassociate themselves from Gadhafi and his government,” Mr. Cohen said in a statement.

In his peace plan first reported in The Washington Times on Monday, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi proposed that his father step down and he assume control over a transitional government, according to sources familiar with the proposal.

The second plan, carried by Mr. Obeidi and outlined to Greek officials Sunday, would divide the country, with rebels controlling the east and Col. Gadhafi’s sons ruling in the west.

“We are trying to find a mutual solution,” Mr. Obeidi said in a British radio interview last week.

The Times reported late last month that aides close to Col. Gadhafi had urged him to divide the country and consolidate control over western Libya by crushing the resistance in Misurata, the last remaining rebel-held city in the west.

Greece’s deputy foreign minister told The Times on Monday that his country will present a peace initiative for Libya’s civil conflict “in the next day or two.”

“We require a transition from the current regime,” Dimitris Dollis said in a phone interview from Athens. “We also require political reforms.”

Mr. Dollis said that Prime Minister George Papandreou “has been talking to his colleagues” about the Libyan crisis and is “talking to other governments about what we consider to be a way forward.”

Mr. Obeidi traveled to Ankara on Monday, and Turkish officials said they were trying to broker a cease-fire in Libya. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference that his country would “continue to do its best to end the sufferings and to contribute to the process of making a road map that includes the political demands of Libyan people.”

Mr. Lamen of the American Libyan Council said the regime may be trying to send a signal to the rebels by dispatching Mr. Obeidi, who belongs to the largest tribe in the east, to Europe.

Mr. Obeidi could become a go-between for the regime and the rebels, he said.

Mr. Obeidi is expected to travel to Malta on Tuesday.

In Tripoli, a Gadhafi spokesman said Libya is ready to hold elections and reform its political system but only its own people can decide whether Col. Gadhafi remains in charge, Reuters news agency reported.

“We could have any political system, any changes: constitution, election, anything, but the leader has to lead this forward. This is our belief,” said Mussa Ibrahim, when asked about the content of negotiations with the West.

He said no conditions could be imposed on Libya from abroad, even though the country was ready to discuss proposals aimed at bringing more democracy, transparency, press freedom and anti-corruption laws, Reuters reported.

In Rome, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini met with rebel envoy Ali Al Issawi and dismissed Mr. Obeidi’s proposal as “not credible.”

Italy on Monday became the second European nation after France to give diplomatic recognition to the rebel provisional government. Qatar is the only Arab nation to recognize the rebels, but Kuwait is expected to establish ties with the resistance soon.

“Any solution for the future of Libya has a precondition: that Gadhafi’s regime leaves; that Gadhafi himself and the family leave the country,” Mr. Frattini said.

The provisional Interim National Transitional Council denounced the latest Gadhafi proposal as “unacceptable, as is any policy initiative that does not lead to the end of the Gadhafi regime,” Mr. Issawi said.

A source close to the opposition also said the opposition will never settle for a plan that keeps members of the regime in power.

“There will be no going back at this point. Too much blood has been spilled,” she told The Times on the condition of anonymity.

Western officials are also interested in signs of fissures in the military, although one source described the difficulty of gauging the extent of the military’s loyalty to the Gadhafis.

The resistance doubts that Col. Gadhafi has any interest in a real cease-fire because his troops have escalated their offensive on rebel-held cities, members of the opposition said Monday.

Misurata, 130 miles east of Tripoli, was the scene of heavy fighting Monday, as pro-Gadhafi forces used tanks and snipers to gain control of the city, which has been under siege for more than 40 days.

Mohamed, a rebel spokesman whose full name has been withheld out of concern for his safety, said Misurata was on the brink of a humanitarian crisis.

Some defectors remain fearful of the regime, even in self-imposed exile.

A senior official who defected after the uprising began told The Times that he will not publicly call for Col. Gadhafi to step down because he still has relatives in Libya.

“I have a big family. Not all of them are with me,” the defector said on the condition of anonymity.

“Some of the people who are left around him may be waiting for an opportunity to take Gadhafi out. But they know that if they do it now, it could be suicidal,” said the opposition source.

Ben Birnbaum contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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