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National Security / LIBYA

Libyan Ambassador: We Don't Want a Peacekeeping Force

Tens of thousands of Libyans in Benghazi celebrate late Saturday night after rebels advanced on the nation's capital. Gunfire erupted in central Tripoli after the break of the dawn-to-dusk fast of Ramadan.(GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)

August 21, 2011

The Libyan people do not want an international peacekeeping force or any foreign-military boots on the ground after Muammar el-Qaddafi falls, the rebels' ambassador to Washington said on Monday.

The rebels, who have been fighting for months to overthrow Qaddafi, took over the streets in Tripoli and celebrated the imminent end of the strongman's four-decade rule. The rebels' recently accredited ambassador to Washington, Ali Suleiman Aujali, was optimistic about the transition to democracy after Qaddafi falls, and he insisted that there would be no need for foreign ground troops to intervene.

"This revolution is a civilized revolution. No revenge will take place," Aujali told National Journal.

 

Qaddafi's whereabouts remained unknown on Monday, a day after his private security unit and two of his sons surrendered to the rebels' transitional government, now recognized by the United States, Great Britain, and other nations as the legitimate regime in Libya. Still, Qaddafi is not giving up without a fight; diehard forces loyal to Libya's longtime dictator fired from tanks at rebels advancing on his compound on Monday, despite calls by world leaders for him to surrender power peacefully.

After Qaddafi falls, Pentagon spokesman David Lapan said on Monday that the U.S. does not plan to send ground forces into the war-torn country to assist in any international peacekeeping operations, Reuters reported. So far, U.S. officials "do not have any information that [Qaddafi] has left the country," Lapan said.

The rebels, who also believe Qaddafi is still in the country, are searching for him, Aujali said. "We have to get the big guy," he said, referring to Qaddafi. "When we get him, it is up to the Libyan people [to do] what they want to do with him--either they present him to the Libyan justice system or go to the [International Criminal Court]." Qaddafi, along with his son Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi--who was captured by the rebels on Sunday--are wanted on charges of committing crimes against humanity. 

Rebel leaders said that Muhammad el-Qaddafi surrendered for a promise of safety soon after his brother Seif Qaddafi had been captured and that Muammar Qaddafi's main compound of Bab al Aziziya had been surrounded.

As long as Qaddafi is hiding, Aujali said that the rebels remain worried about his remaining stockpile of weapons. "Qaddafi's people are still hanging around; they still have these weapons; they're killing people randomly--this is a problem," he said.

The rebels are preparing for any "surprises" from Qaddafi, he said. "We don't know actually what Qaddafi will do as far as he's at large."

NATO has been bombing Qaddafi's ground forces and command-and-control centers for months, but the situation on the ground had remained an uneasy stalemate. Sunday's rebel advances into the capital, which had until now been held by Qaddafi's forces, cleared the way for a likely last stand by the embattled leader, who has refused to step down. Libyans celebrated early on Monday in Tripoli's Martyrs Square, in Benghazi, in European capitals, and outside the White House in Washington, banging tambourines and chanting "Thank you, USA! Thank you, Obama! Merci, Sarkozy!"

For more: Photographs of the show of joy from Libya and elsewhere.

Aujali, who served as Qaddafi's envoy to Washington before quitting to represent the rebels, said it was the "most important day in my life." Aujali was recently accredited as the head of the Libyan Embassy in Washington, which officially reopened last week under rebel control.

Qaddafi's fall, hastened by NATO and U.S. support for the rebels, would follow the ouster of longtime dictators in Egypt and Tunisia as a wave of discontent has swept North Africa and the Middle East.

Late last week, the Obama administration and allies also called for the departure of Syria's Bashar al-Assad, who has unleashed deadly force to quell democratic protests. In a statement late on Sunday, President Obama said that the momentum against Qaddafi ''has a reached a tipping point.'' Obama urged the strongman to go peacefully. "The future of Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people,'' Obama said from vacation on Martha's Vineyard.

NATO released a statement on Sunday that Qaddafi's rule was ''clearly crumbling'' and urged a quick end to hostilities. The new government, NATO said, "must make sure that the transition is smooth and inclusive, that the country stays united, and that the future is founded on reconciliation and respect for human rights.''

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday that the U.N. is “now prepared to assist in all vital areas” for post-conflict planning in Libya, and he called on Qaddafi’s forces to “cease violence immediately and make way for a smooth transition.”

Ki-moon said it's important that the Security Council reach a mandate for post-conflict activity in Libya. “It will be crucial for the Security Council to be as responsive to post-conflict planning and assistance as it has been throughout this crisis," he said.

Markets reacted positively to the news that rebels took over the capital, with oil prices falling overnight. Before the six-month-old civil war, Libya supplied 1.6 percent of the world's oil.

(RELATED: Statement: President Obama on Libya)

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called on the United States to quickly release $34 billion in frozen Libyan government assets to the transitional rulers to restore order and rebuild the country. On Monday, British Prime Minister David Cameron followed suit, saying that his nation "soon will be able to release frozen assets that belong to the Libyan people.''

The rebels advanced quickly into the heart of Tripoli on Sunday, Britain's Sky News reported. They "had been expecting much more resistance, but there has been very little," said Sky News reporter Alex Crawford.  Tripoli's main Green Square, once the site of pro-Qaddafi rallies, was renamed Martyrs Square for the victims of Qaddafi's brutal rule. Live feeds showed pure joy as Libyans took to the streets to celebrate his defeat. "Libya is free!'' they chanted.

Outside the White House early on Monday, about 100 Libyans remained from a boistrous rally, singing and banging tambourines, many carrying babies or wheeling strollers. One protester apologized to a police officer on a bicycle about the noise at that hour.

"That's OK,'' the smiling officer responded. "You're allowed to.''

Sophie Quinton contributed

Follow David Beard on Twitter @dabeardand Sara Sorcher @sarasorcher.

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