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Libyan rebels hope for victory within weeks: envoy

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Libya’s rebel movement said Tuesday that its war against Muammar Qaddafi’s regime had entered a “decisive phase” and that victory was possible within three weeks.

“Our forces totally control Zawiyah, which will open the way to Tripoli. This will allow the population there to revolt,” Mansur Saif Al Nasr, the rebel National Transitional Council’s envoy to Paris, told RFI radio.

“We are entering a decisive phase, soon we will liberate all of southern Libya. We hope to celebrate the final victory at the same time as the end of Ramadan,” he added. The Muslim holy month will end on around August 31.

Zawiyah is a vital oil port on Libya’s Mediterranean coast, 45 kilometres (28 miles) west of the capital Tripoli.

Rebels on the ground claimed Monday to control “most” of the town, but Colonel Qaddafi’s loyalist forces continued to bombard the area with Grad rockets.

“The population inside Tripoli is preparing for the uprising,” Mr. Nasr said. “A few weeks ago, Col. Qaddafi’s forces put down the revolt because they had air power and tanks and our forces were not at the gates of Tripoli.

“Today, they have no more air power, no tanks and our forces are at the entry of Tripoli,” he said.

The rebel advances of recent days, a high-level defection from Col. Qaddafi’s regime and a reported flurry of activity at Libya’s Tunisian border and the Tunisian resort of Djerba have raised rumors of an imminent settlement.

Some reports have suggested that Col. Qaddafi may stand down or that members of his circle may agree to talks with the opposition, but Mr. Nasr denied that the CNT was in direct talks with the regime.

Asked whether the National Transitional Council had sent envoys to Djerba to meet United Nations envoy Abdul Ilah Al Khatib, who arrived in Tunisia on Monday, Mr. Nasr said: “The NTC has sent no one.

“It is Libyan political figures who have met Mr Al-Khatib. He is in Djerba,” he explained. “There are no NTC representatives in Djerba or in Tunisia. The policy of the NTC is not to negotiate with the Qaddafi regime.

“What I can tell you is that independent Libyan political figures who are not on the government side and who are not members of the NTC have met Mr. Khatib, but they do not represent the NTC.”

Mr. Khatib said the rebels continue to demand the departure of Col. Qaddafi and his sons from power as a precondition for talks with any members of his current regime.