Libya roadmap not winning hearts in Benghazi yet

Erdoğan proposed a roadmap for peace in Libya, urging Gaddafi forces to withdraw from besieged cities, the establishment of aid corridors and democratic change.

April 09, 2011, Saturday/ 17:18:00

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has declared a roadmap to end the war in Libya through measures that would include the withdrawal of Muammar Gaddafi's forces from some cities, but the Libyan rebels, who are dismayed at Turkey for not openly calling for Gaddafi's removal, remained critical, saying it is not enough.

Erdoğan announced the three-point plan at a press conference late on Thursday. According to the plan, which Erdoğan said would be discussed at a meeting by the international Libya contact group set up to guide the international intervention in Libya in Qatar next week, an immediate cease-fire must be achieved and Gaddafi's forces should retreat from besieged cities. Second, secure zones should be created for the unimpeded flow of humanitarian aid, and third, a comprehensive transition process toward democracy should begin immediately. “Solid steps must immediately be taken toward a constitutional political change process, following a real cease-fire,” Erdoğan said.

Erdoğan also assured the Libyan opposition that Turkey supports their demands, following recent protests in Libya against Turkey by some opposition members. “We will continue to support your rightful demands,” said Erdoğan, denying allegations that Turkey opposed a NATO mission and tried to limit its scope.

But in rebel stronghold Benghazi, criticism persisted even after the speech. “It’s not enough,” said rebel spokeswoman Iman Bugaighis in remarks published in The Wall Street Journal. “We need action, not talk. The street is boiling and no one can understand the Turkish position.”

Though Erdoğan’s call for Gaddafi’s withdrawal has been received positively in Benghazi, residents said they still wanted Turkey to recognize the rebels as the legitimate authority in Libya and send arms to help them fight Gaddafi.

“Erdoğan distanced himself from us at the beginning. He did not support the opposition as much as we had expected him to. But now he wants Gaddafi out of besieged cities. This is a good thing,” Ahmad Hamid, a Benghazi resident told the private Cihan news agency. Another resident, Rafaa al-Kazim, insisted that what rebels wanted from Turkey is recognition and arms, not humanitarian aid.

Turkey evacuated hundreds of wounded Libyans from the besieged city of Misrata and Benghazi last week but another aid ship sent later to Benghazi, loaded with food and medicine, was turned away by the rebel leadership. According to news reports, even the first ship angered rebels, who said the ship was ill-equipped. They said wounded patients received no medical treatment, forcing rebels in Benghazi to pull their own doctors away from hospitals to treat wounded on the boat, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Turkey, on the other hand, said the ferry had a medical staff of 15 on board, including eight doctors, and ambulances and extensive medical aid.

In several protests in front of the Turkish Consulate in Benghazi, demonstrators urged Erdoğan to “choose his side” and not support Gaddafi. “It is good that Erdoğan is telling Gaddafi to withdraw from the besieged cities. But Turkey has to show clearly where it stands. We have to see where it stands,” Mustafa Naran, another Benghazi resident, told Cihan. Residents placed anti-Turkey posters on a mobile bakery sent to Benghazi by the Turkish Red Crescent Society (Kızılay), saying Libyans do not want aid.

Rebels have publicly blamed Turkey in recent days for what they see as a slowdown in NATO strikes on Gaddafi targets, saying Ankara blocks strong NATO action against Gaddafi. Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu have both dismissed the charges, saying they are part of a “propaganda campaign” against Turkey, launched apparently by outsiders. Officials explained that planning military operations in NATO is a technical, not political, matter and that individual member states cannot interfere once such operations begin. Some rebels even said Ankara was helping Gaddafi, sending food supplies to forces loyal to him.

Libyan rebels also appeared bent on rejecting any talks with Gaddafi so as to pave the way for a cease-fire. “We have established our position and previously said there are no talks before Gaddafi and his family step down or leave,” rebel spokesman Col. Ahmad Bani told Al Arabiya television. “I think [Erdoğan] is not speaking in the interests of the Libyan or Turkish people but only in his personal interest,” he said.

Disharmony within opposition?

Turkey has earlier said it was in talks with both the Gaddafi side and the opposition to negotiate a cease-fire and a way to end the conflict. Following talks with a Gaddafi envoy this week, however, officials said there was no sign of a breakthrough yet as rebels oppose any solution formula under which Gaddafi or his family would stay in power. It was not clear if the Libyan sides were discussing terms of the plan.

Turkey’s consul-general in Benghazi, Ali Davutoğlu, was meeting with representatives of the opposition on Friday. A special envoy carrying a message from Erdoğan already had talks with opposition figures in Benghazi earlier this week.

In Ankara, Turkish officials said they were “surprised” at the critical statements made by rebel spokesmen, saying Ankara had the impression that the plan was actually received positively by both the Gaddafi camp and the rebels and reminding of the existence of different camps within rebels that might have conflicting views about Turkey’s roadmap. “The roadmap was prepared as a result of contacts with both sides,” one Turkish official told Today’s Zaman. “It was prepared because the Libyans were willing to see a cease-fire.” The official was cautious when commenting on whether the roadmap can really bring peace and a political solution to the conflict in Libya, saying it still needs to be discussed with partners not only in Libya but also in NATO and organizations such as the Arab League.

In a sign of readiness to welcome international contribution, Erdoğan extended support to the UN secretary-general’s special envoy to Libya, Abdelilah Al-Khatib, on Thursday, saying he should have a central role in finding a solution. Al-Khatib discussed Turkey’s roadmap with Davutoğlu over a phone conversation on Thursday, officials said.

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