LIBYA’S former oil minister has defected from the Gaddafi regime after escaping from Misrata in a fishing boat with his wife and children.
Speaking from outside Libya, Fathi Shatwan accused Muammar Gaddafi of ordering massacres in which as many as 20,000, had been killed by government troops.
He told The Times he had suffered “hell” in Misrata under siege. The latest defection from Gaddafi’s inner-circle has added pressure to the Libya leader. “Nobody wants to see this regime,” Shatwan said. “There is no democracy at all. Now he is killing his people with tanks and bombs.
“His son Saif al-Islam used to be a reformer, but not any more. He is saying the same as his father, and they are all just playing games.” Shatwan called on the coalition to continue the air strikes and take tougher military action to hit government forces.
“Why don’t the British and French hit them? That would end it all quickly. They are just bombing old radar stations. Everyone in Libya says they just want the Libyans to go on fighting each other.” Fattah Younes, the head of the opposition, accused the 28-nation alliance of letting the rebel movement down.
“NATO blesses us every now and then with a bombardment here and there, and is letting the people of Misrata die every day. NATO has disappointed us,” he said. Colonel Gaddafi appealed to President Obama yesterday as “our son” to stop the NATO campaign in Libya.
In a letter to Mr Obama that seemed at times desperate and absurd, the embattled leader called the air campaign an “unjust war against a small people of a developing country”.
He repeated an earlier claim that al-Qa’ida fighters were among rebel forces in the East, and depicted himself as a force for democratic reform being hampered by bombs and missiles.
Administration officials confirmed that the rambling three-page letter had been received at the White House.
A spokesman made it clear that a letter alone would not alter US strategy. Any ceasefire would depend on “actions not words [and] a cessation of violence,” the spokesman said.
Forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi are using human shields and civilian vehicles to make it harder for NATO warplanes to hit them, the alliance said as frustration grew among rebels at the limitation of the military assistance.
NATO insisted that the tempo of operations was increasing even after the US, its most powerful member, adopted a more backseat role.
Carmen Romero, a spokeswoman in Brussels, said the alliance’s primary focus was protecting civilians in Misrata, but warned that the situation was constantly evolving.
“Gaddafi’s forces are changing tactics, using civilian vehicles, hiding tanks in cities such as Misrata and using human shields to hide behind,” she said.
Alain Juppe, the French Foreign Minister, said there must be no collateral damage for the civilian population from the airstrikes. “That obviously makes operations more difficult,” he told French radio. Mr Shatwan said yesterday that other ministers were ready to defect but were afraid to do so.
Colonel Gaddafi was seizing the families of anyone wanting to go abroad. The Gaddafi Government still had plenty of money and was able to bring in weapons and supplies through Algeria.
Mr Shatwan also poured scorn of Colonel Gaddafi’s announcement that he would stay and die in Libya: “He does not want to die. He will escape if he can. Maybe he will go to Chad.”
The White House confirmed that it was aware of a US delegation to Tripoli led by a former Republican congressman, Curt Weldon, who said that he was there “to meet with Colonel Gaddafi and persuade him to step aside”.