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Libya regime blasts West 'conspiracy' against Kadhafi
  • | AFP | March 08, 2011 10:39 AM

Moamer Kadhafi\'s regime accused the United States, Britain and France of "a conspiracy to divide Libya" Monday as pressure built to arm the rebels and the UN named a special envoy to Tripoli.

Libyan rebel fighters are silhouetted at sunset in the oil centre of Brega.

The worsening conflict sent world oil prices higher, while NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen said attacks on civilians by Kadhafi\'s troops could amount to crimes against humanity.

Libya\'s foreign minister told reporters in the capital Tripoli that the Western allies were trying to split the North African country by secretly building up contacts with rebel leaders.

"It is clear that France, Great Britain and the US are now getting in touch with defectors in eastern Libya. It means there is a conspiracy to divide Libya," said the minister, Mussa Kussa.

Washington said it was considering the option of arming the Libyan opposition, France praised the National Council set up by the rebels and Britain clandestinely sent a diplomat into eastern Libya to make initial contact.

The rebels began pulling back from the key oil port of Ras Lanuf as fighter jets targeted defences on the edge of town, throwing up palls of smoke amid fears that government forces were gearing for an attack.

One air strike wounded a father and a son when a jet bombed their car on the road outside the town, medics and an AFP reporter said.

Doctor Haitham Gheriani said at least one missile left the father with severe but not life-threatening injuries, and his son lightly wounded.

Salim Hussein Attia, 47, a manager at the Ras Lanuf oil plant, told AFP that he had been taking his family east to stay with relatives after government forces captured the nearby hamlet of Bin Jawad.

"We were driving past the petrol station when suddenly we were hit by a big explosion. Thank God my family are all fine. My son Ahmed has just a few stitches," he said.

After the bloodiest fighting of the three-week-old conflict Sunday, the United Nations demanded urgent access to scores of "injured and dying" in the western city of Misrata.

A doctor in Misrata said 21 people, including a child, had been killed in shelling and clashes there on Sunday, and 91 people wounded, the "overwhelming majority" of them civilians.

"These widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population may amount to crimes against humanity," Rasmussen told a news conference at NATO headquarters.

He said the "outrageous" response of Kadhafi\'s regime to protests had created "a human crisis on our doorstep which concerns us all" and reiterated his strongest condemnation.

"I can\'t imagine the international community and the UN standing idly by if Colonel Kadhafi and his regime continue to attack his own people systematically," Rasmussen added.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon named former Jordanian foreign minister Abdul Ilah Khatib as his special envoy to deal with the regime on the humanitarian front.

Ban\'s office said he noted that "civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence, and calls for an immediate halt to the government\'s disproportionate use of force and indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets".

Khatib, 56, will leave for New York "in the next few days before travelling to Libya, where he should meet with all parties involved in the conflict," an associate of the former minister told AFP in Amman.

The UN called for $160 million (114 million euros) to cover relief support including shelter, food and sanitation for refugees as well as others who remain trapped by the fighting.

With the military situation worsening and population centres threatened, British and French attempts to have a no-fly zone imposed over Libya received a boost as Gulf Arab states announced their support.

But veto-wielding UN Security Council permanent member Russia signalled its opposition.

"The Libyans must resolve their problems themselves," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

The New York Times reported Sunday that US defence planners were preparing a range of land, sea and air military options in Libya in case Washington and its allies decide to intervene.

Washington\'s ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder told reporters in Brussels that Libya\'s use of air power had decreased in recent days, easing the need for a no-fly zone.

"It really peaked late last week and is starting to come down, and indeed, to date, the overall air activity has not been the deciding factor in the ongoing unrest," he said.

Kadhafi has not hesitated to use his air power against rebel positions, and reports that his jets bombed protesters in Benghazi in the early days of the revolt are among alleged atrocities being investigated by war crimes prosecutors from the International Criminal Court.

Ras Lanuf\'s sole hospital was empty Monday after the wounded were moved to Ajdabiya, further east in rebel territory.

The remaining rebel presence appeared very thin, with only about a dozen fighters manning the main checkpoint into the town.

World oil prices shot higher, striking two and a half year highs on the turmoil in the Middle East.

New York\'s main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in April, hit $106.95 a barrel -- the highest level since September 2008.

It later fell back to $105.67, still up $1.25 compared with Friday\'s close.

In London, Brent North Sea crude for April rose 88 cents to $116.85.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said that US officials were seeking to learn as much as they could about Libyan opposition groups, but that arming the rebels was only one option on the table.

"On the issue of ... arming, providing weapons, it is one of the range of options that is being considered," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

"We are pursuing a number of channels to have conversations and discussions with the opposition, groups and individuals, as we try to learn more about what they are pursuing, what they want."

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