Rebel Libyan army in east ready to help Tripoli

Offers 'any kind of assistance' to Libya uprising


A general in eastern Libya who has mutinied against Muammar Gaddafi rule said his forces stood ready to help rebels fighting in Tripoli if called on to do so, but he rejected any need for foreign assistance.

The Libyan leader lost control on the east swiftly after the eruption of protests against his rule on Feb. 15. Rebels in the eastern city of Benghazi have created a national council and have pledged to support those still fighting Gaddafi's rule.

"Our brothers in Tripoli say: `We are fine so far, we do not need help'. If they ask for help we are ready to move," said General Ahmed el-Gatrani, one of most senior figures in the army in Benghazi which no longer swears allegiance to Gaddafi.

Residents of Benghazi say that hundreds of people from the city have already headed to Tripoli to support the effort to seize control of the capital from Gaddafi. Gatrani indicated the army would only move if called on by rebel commanders there.

The extent to which rebel army units engage with hardline Gaddafi loyalists is a key factor in how long conflict may last.

"Tripoli hostage"

"In Tripoli they (Gaddafi loyalists) still control one unit but it will be with the people soon," he told Reuters, without giving a source for his information. "All orders he gives to the air force, they are refusing his instructions.

"He only has a couple of units in the areas he still controls and the rest are with us. Tripoli is being held hostage," he said, adding that Sirte, Gaddafi's home town which lies roughly between Benghazi and Tripoli, was also falling.

Gaddafi on Sunday dismissed new U.N. sanctions against him and said a small group of rebels protesting his rule were surrounded and would be defeated.

In a telephone interview with a Serbian television station, he said Saturday's U.N. Security Council vote imposing travel and asset sanctions on him and close aides was null and void.

"The people of Libya support me, small groups of rebels are surrounded and will be dealt with," Gaddafi told Serbia's Pink television station in Belgrade. The station said the interview was conducted from Gaddafi's office in Tripoli.

Separately, the United States is prepared to offer "any kind of assistance" to Libyans seeking to overthrow the regime of strongman Muammar Gaddafi, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday.

Clinton spoke shortly before leaving for Geneva, where she will meet with European allies and envoys from Arab and African countries in hopes of agreeing on a common response to the rebellion that threatens to end Gaddafi's 41-year rule.

In Tripoli they still control one unit but it will be with the people soon

A general in eastern Libya

The trip comes a day after the U.N. Security Council unanimously imposed a travel ban and froze the assets of Gaddafi and his family.

"We are reaching out to many different Libyans in the east as the revolution moves westward there as well," Clinton said, referring to opposition groups. "... It is too soon to see how this is going to play out."

A spokesman for the new National Libyan Council, which formed in the eastern city of Benghazi after it was taken by anti-Gaddafi forces, said his group did not want foreign intervention.

As Gaddafi opponents made gains near the capital city Tripoli, Clinton said the U.N. resolution was a message to Gaddafi and those around him that they "will be held accountable for the actions that are being taken and have been taken against Libyan people."

Clinton said the United States was not negotiating with Gaddafi.

"We are just at the beginning of what will follow Gaddafi," Clinton said.

"We want him to leave and we want him to end his regime and call off the mercenaries and troops who remain loyal to him," she said. "How he manages that is up to him."

U.S. officials say Clinton's trip to Geneva is aimed at coordinating the international response to Libya's crisis, with Washington insisting that the world "speak with one voice" on stemming the violence and bringing Gaddafi to justice.

The resolution adopted by the 15-nation U.N. council also called for the immediate referral of the deadly crackdown to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for investigation and possible prosecution of anyone responsible for killing civilians.

The Obama administration has been criticized by rights groups and others for moving too slowly on Libya, the latest country hit by spreading turmoil and anti-government protests across the Middle East and North Africa. But White House officials said fears for the safety of Americans in the country had tempered Washington's response to the turmoil.

Washington announced a series of sanctions against Libya on Friday after a chartered ferry and a plane carrying Americans and other evacuees left Libya.

Washington is considering steps including sanctions and a "no-fly" zone to try to stop Gaddafi's suppression of anti-government protests, which diplomats estimate has killed about 2,000 people in two weeks of violence.

While Western governments are trying to ratchet up pressure, it remains unclear how long Gaddafi, with some thousands of loyalists, might hold out against rebel forces comprised of youthful gunmen and mutinous soldiers.

We want him to leave and we want him to end his regime and call off the mercenaries and troops who remain loyal to him

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton