Rebels Deny Negotiating With Libyan Government

A senior Libyan official said progress has been made in talks with rebels on ending more than four months of fighting. But a top rebel leader has denied that any negotiations are taking place.

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From the beginning, the conflict in Libya has offered competing versions of what's happening in the battle for control of that country. The latest example, the government of Moammar Gadhafi says it is engaged in talks with rebels, rebels who've taken over about a third of the country. That statement comes on a day of continued NATO bombing and as rebels deny any talks are taking place.

NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Tripoli.

COREY FLINTOFF: Libya's deputy foreign minister, Khaled Kaim, told reporters in Tripoli that there have been unofficial contacts between the government and rebels in several outside countries.

Mr. KHALED KAIM (Deputy Foreign Minister, Libya): There have been talks -direct talks over the last two months, and also there are phone conversations with some members of the TNC, and some rebels.

FLINTOFF: The TNC is the Transitional National Council, the rebel coalition group based in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. The chairman of that group, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, has said there are no such talks, direct or indirect, underway between the rebels and the government. Kaim, the government's deputy foreign minister, asserted that the talks have included members of the TNC, but he contends that there's division among the rebel groups, something the rebels emphatically deny.

Mr. KAIM: They are different factions. They don't speak one - by one voice. That's why we heard yesterday, some of them, they say that - one of them claim that there's no negotiation, there's no talks, and another one said, no. We are not engaging in any talks with the government.

FLINTOFF: Kaim also blamed NATO, saying the on-going bombing campaign has hindered efforts by the government to start what he called a national dialogue.

Mr. KAIM: Some member states of the NATO, they don't support the talks between the rebels and the government. And that's why there have been some delay in the realizing certain outcome of this talks.

FLINTOFF: During the day, some bombing was heard in Tripoli, although it wasn't clear what the targets were. According to NATO's own reports, many of the airstrikes in recent days have taken place in the east, notably around the oil port of Brega near Benghazi, and in the Nafusa mountains, southwest of Tripoli.

The Libyan government also denounced efforts by other countries to arm various rebel groups. France has conducted air drops of weapons and ammunition in the western mountains.

On Monday, Libyan officials took reporters to see a weapons cache that was allegedly seized from a boat landing on the shore to the west of Tripoli. The cache consisted of about 100 Belgian-made rifles and ammunition, in boxes that were labeled as being from Qatar. The Persian Gulf state has been supporting the rebels. Kaim said that foreign interference and NATO military action is what is hindering progress in talks with the rebels.

Mr. KAIM: But I'm sure once the NATO military campaign stops, all of them, either they be part of the dialogue, or they will leave the country. They don't have any other option.

FLINTOFF: The rebels clearly have other ideas.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Tripoli.

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