Libyan Opposition Wary Of Gadhafi's Amnesty Offer

On state television, Gadhafi's regime has dangled an offer of amnesty for those who put down their arms. But there is still fear that those who fought the government — even those who just joined in protests — may never be safe.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Steve Inskeep is on assignment in Egypt. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

In Libya, forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi have pushed farther east. Latest reports say the airport near the rebel stronghold of Benghazi was targeted by airstrikes. In New York, supporters of a no-fly zone over Libya are calling for a vote at the U.N. today. And the U.S. has raised the prospect of additional protections for Libyan civilians. But it is not clear whether these measures will come soon enough for the opposition forces that have been in retreat. NPR's David Greene has our story.

DAVID GREENE: The first time you met this man, Abdul Basset Issa, he was overflowing with confidence. It was 11 days ago, and Issa was speaking to us at a cafe on the Libyan-Tunisian border.

Mr. ABDUL BASSET ISSA: The people, they saw a taste of freedom - the children, the old people, the old ladies. They start feel like they get rid of the disease. We will die. We will die, all of us, not to go back.

GREENE: Now Issa, a Libyan businessman who joined the opposition, is in London. He's waiting for surgery on his foot, which was shot during one of the early protests in Tripoli. He spends his days now calling fellow rebels across Libya. The news hasn't been good.

Mr. ISSA: We still have a big chance. But as I said, we will fight until we die. We're going to have a country without him. Just a matter of time. I cannot say hours or days or weeks. It's not the end. It's still a matter of time.

GREENE: It may not be the end, but government victories in eastern Libya have been piling up. The decisive battlegrounds may now be Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city and the heart of the revolution.

Government forces have already bombed an airport in the city that rebels are using as a base. They've also passed out leaflets to Benghazi residents, urging support for Gadhafi. Abdul Basset Issa said all the promises in the leaflets are a cruel reminder of a past they're trying to erase.

Mr. ISSA: If you come back to us, we will give you this and that. He gets inside the streets but he cannot control the people's hearts and intentions.

GREENE: On state television, Gadhafi's regime has dangled an offer of amnesty for those who put down their arms. But there's still fear that those who fought the government, even those who just joined in the protests, may never be safe.

There's been talk of critics being arrested or disappearing in cities the government has re-taken. This rebel supporter in the city of Sabratha was willing to talk to us early in the uprising. Yesterday was a different story.

Unidentified Man: Thank you very much. I can't speak with any foreign agency here, some restrictions for me. Thank you.

GREENE: For the opposition right now, it's about small victories. Yesterday, rebels said they gained control of an oil tanker and re-routed the precious fuel to Benghazi instead of Tripoli. There are claims this morning that rebels have put up a desperate stand and perhaps have even re-taken parts of the eastern city of Ajdibiyah.

Yet Gadhafi's better-trained military has proven largely unstoppable, which has made rebel calls for international help even louder. One of Gadhafi's sons, Saif, said any outside military intervention, such as a no-fly zone, would now be pointless.

Mr. SAIF GADHAFI: (Through translator) Military operations are over. Within 48 hours everything will be finished. Our forces are almost in Benghazi. Whatever the decision, it'll be too late.

GREENE: In an interview with Euronews, Gadhafi's son added a message for the rebels.

Mr. SAIF GADHAFI: (Through translator) We don't want to kill, we don't want revenge. But traitors and mercenaries have committed crimes against the Libyan people. Just leave. Go in peace to Egypt.

(Soundbite of gunfire and fireworks)

GREENE: From this spot in the center of Tripoli, I've watched fireworks this week and also heard the sound of gunfire erupting in the air. Gadhafi's supporters seem to be celebrating each new military victory.

(Soundbite of crowd singing)

GREENE: A few blocks over there, in Tripoli's Green Square, there's been a pro-government rally that never seems to stop.

As popular revolts have spread across this part of the world, Libya's leader appears for the moment like he might be one of the survivors.

David Greene, NPR News, Tripoli.

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