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Mon 5 Sep 2011 10:18 AM

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Talks fail with Gaddafi loyalists in desert bastion

Gaddafi’s men refuse to surrender, opening doors to fresh assault on Bani Walid

Talks fail with Gaddafi loyalists in desert bastion
Libyan rebel fighters prepare for an assault on the desert town of Bani Walid

Forces of Libya's interim ruling council are poised for an
assault on the desert town of Bani Walid after negotiators failed to persuade
Muammar Gaddafi loyalists to abandon one of their last remaining bastions.

The town is one of just a handful of areas in Libya still
under the control of Gaddafi loyalists after a six-month rebellion ousted the
leader from Tripoli last month.

Outside the town, a negotiator for the National Transitional
Council forces now in control of the country said talks with tribal leaders
were over.

"As chief negotiator, I have nothing to offer right
now. From my side, negotiations are finished," Abdallah Kanshil said at a
checkpoint some 60km outside Bani Walid.

"They said they don't want to talk, they are
threatening everyone who moves. They are putting snipers on high rise buildings
and inside olive groves, they have a big fire force. We compromised a lot at
the last minute," he said.

It would be up to the NTC to decide what to do next, he
added. "I urge Gaddafi people to leave the town alone."

Tribal elders from Bani Walid had come out to negotiate
after NTC spokesmen said several times over the previous day that talks were
over and they were about to attack.

There has been speculation from NTC officials that members
of Gaddafi's family, perhaps even the former Libyan leader himself, may be hiding
there.

No comment was available from the other side.

Anti-Gaddafi forces have also closed in on the deposed leader's
birthplace in the coastal city of Sirte.

"There are ongoing negotiations regarding Sirte between
the elders and various tribes and the free Libya forces surrounding
Sirte," NTC military spokesman Ahmed Bani said in Benghazi. "The time
is coming when talk is done with and we will enforce our will upon liberating
the city of Sirte."

To the east of Sirte fighters were dug in and also said they
were ready to advance.

"We are awaiting the green light from the
council," said Naji al-Maghrabi, commander of a brigade. "If they
tell us, 'Move into Sirte now,' we will."

One fighter, Belqassem Souliman, said: "They have no
way out but to surrender or die."

Independent accounts from the three pro-Gaddafi bastions of
Sirte, Bani Walid and Sabha, deep in the Sahara desert, have not been available
as communications appear to be cut off.

The UN's senior humanitarian official in Libya said he was
worried about humanitarian problems in the few pockets of territory where
Gaddafi loyalists are still in control.

"We are looking very closely at the situation in
Sirte," said Panos Moumtzis, UN humanitarian coordinator for Libya.

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"We are preoccupied about the protection of civilians
in this area. We understand that there is a dialogue taking place. We would
really like to see a peaceful solution as fast as possible."

Earlier on Sunday NTC negotiator Abdul Azil said NATO-backed
NTC forces were just 10km from Bani Walid and inching forward, ready to attack
what he said were an estimated 100 pro-Gaddafi fighters there.

"We are waiting for the order for our commanders to go
into the city. We have told them we are coming. Everyone should stay at home.
Hopefully it will be done without bloodshed," he said, as NATO warplanes
roared overhead.

In Tripoli, life has started returning to normal after last
month's fighting and a Muslim holiday last week. Traffic has become heavy as
fuel supplies improved. Cafes are busy and offices have begun opening.

NTC officials have announced plans to bring their
heavily-armed fighters under control and try to integrate thousands of them
into the police force and find jobs for others.

Officials said there would also be retraining and
reintegration schemes for those who fought for Gaddafi.

The disintegration of Gaddafi's rule after a six-month war
has left a security vacuum in Libya, with no state security forces. There are
also large numbers former rebel fighters who are not part of any formal
structure, and huge quantities of unsecured weapons.

After chasing out Gaddafi from his Tripoli compound last
month, Libya's new rulers are trying to control the entire country and restore
normality.

But in an early sign of divisions, Ismail al-Salabi, a
Libyan Islamist military commander who fought Gaddafi's forces called on the
interim cabinet to resign because they were "remnants of the old
regime".

A spokesman for Gaddafi, who has been in hiding since his
foes seized Tripoli on Aug. 23, has dismissed talk of surrender and said
powerful tribal leaders were still loyal to him.

"He's in the country," Moussa Ibrahim said on
Friday in a call from an undisclosed location. "He's in a safe place
surrounded by many people who are prepared to protect him.