Libya oil minister has reportedly defected
Pressure piled on Libyan leader Moamer Gathafi Tuesday as his oil minister appeared to have defected, Moscow issued a rebuke, NATO jets pounded Tripoli and a leading prosecutor sought his arrest for crimes against humanity.
A Tunisian government source said that Oil Minister Shukri Ghanem, a veteran of Moamer Gathafi's regime, has left his country and is in neighbouring Tunisia.
Ghanem, also the chairman of Libya's powerful national oil company, crossed the border by car on Saturday and is staying in a hotel in the southern tourist island of Djerba, the official said on condition of anonymity.
If it is confirmed the minister has left his post, he would be among the most senior officials to abandon Gathafi's government amid an uprising that erupted in mid-February.
Former foreign minister Mussa Kussa defected to Britain in March, leaving Libya via Tunisia.
In Moscow, meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he held talks Tuesday with Gathafi's envoys and had told Tripoli to obey the terms of UN resolutions on Libya.
The visit to Moscow by Muhammad Ahmed al-Sharif, general secretary of the World Islamic Call Society, the Libya-based group founded by Gathafi, comes as Russia is also preparing to hold talks with rebels fighting the regime.
"We raised the issues that directly come out of our principal position aimed first and foremost at urgently ending bloodletting in Libya," Lavrov said after talks with Sharif.
"We raised an issue about the need for the Libyan leadership to explicitly embrace and begin the implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions in full," Lavrov said.
"These resolutions demand that any use of military force against peaceful civilians be stopped."
Moscow, which has been strongly critical of the international campaign against Gathafi's regime, had agreed to talk to both Gathafi's envoys and rebels who had also planned to come to Moscow but had to delay their trip.
Overnight, air strikes by NATO set fire to two buildings near Gathafi's compound in the Libyan capital, according to an AFP reporter who along with other journalists was taken by the Libyan authorities to the site, where firefighters battled the flames.
Parts of Tripoli have been targeted almost daily by NATO-led strikes launched on March 19 after a UN resolution mandated a no-fly zone and called for the protection of civilians from Gathafi's regime.
Britain, one of the main powers enforcing the no-fly zone, confirmed attacks overnight in Tripoli involving Tomahawk missiles and Royal Air Force Tornado aircraft which it said struck intelligence agency buildings and a military training base.
Regime officials had identified the targets as a security services building and the headquarters of Libya's anti-corruption agency.
A British defence ministry statement issued in London Tuesday said the facilities destroyed "lay at the heart of the apparatus used by the regime to brutalise the civilian population."
"One of the intelligence facilities which was hit is known to play a significant role in the collection of information by Colonel Gathafi's secret police, while the other was a headquarters for the External Security Organisation, commanded by Abdullah Senussi," it said.
Senussi, Libya's intelligence chief, Gathafi and the strongman's son Seif al-Islam have been accused by International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of committing crimes against humanity in suppressing anti-regime protests which erupted on February 15.
Moreno-Ocampo appealed on Monday to the court to issue warrants against the three, saying there was evidence "that Moamer Gathafi personally ordered attacks on innocent Libyan civilians."
A panel of ICC judges will now decide whether to accept or reject the prosecutor's application.
Moreno-Ocampo said thousands of people had been killed and around 750,000 people forced to flee since Gathafi ordered his forces to crush the protests against his four-decade autocratic rule.
The rebels hailed the move by the ICC but said that Gathafi ought to be tried in Libya first.
"The National Transitional Council welcomes the decision of chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, to request an arrest warrant," the rebel administration's vice president, Abdel Hafez Ghoga, said.
"We would like him to be tried in Libya first before being put on trial in an international court," he added.
The Libyan regime however claimed the ICC prosecutor was acting on "incoherent" information.
"Unfortunately, the ICC was from the start of the Libyan crisis dependent on media reports to evaluate the situation in Libya. As a result, the ICC has usually reached incoherent conclusions," government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said in a statement.