As Libyan rebels said they were poised to cut off supplies to the capital Tripoli, it is being reported that envoys of Colonel Gaddafi’s government are holding talks with rebel representatives at a hotel on the island resort of Djerba in neighbouring Tunisia.
Tunisia’s Foreign Ministry also confirmed that Abdel Elah al-Khatib, the UN Secretary General’s envoy for Libya, has arrived in the country to join the talks. Gaddafi’s government denies talks with rebels are taking place.
In what could be a high level defection, Libya’s Interior Minister Nassr al-Mabrouk Abdullah flew from Djerba to Egypt’s capital Cairo with nine members of his family. He told officials he was on holiday.
Gaddafi officials in Tripoli said he was a former public security minister and now held a top security position. They said his travel was unofficial. A source at the Libyan embassy in Cairo said he had not made contact with the embassy there.
Fierce fighting continues for the strategic town of Zawiyah, 50 kilometres west of Tripoli. Taking Zawiyah would give the rebels control of the coastal road from Tunisia the main supply route to the capital.
Reuters news agency reporters in the town say Gaddafi’s forces still hold an oil refinery and have sniper positions on rooftops, but the highway linking Tripoli to the Tunisian border is shut.
Zawiyah is also home to the government’s only functioning oil refinery and would be a significant gain.
Rebels said they had also captured the town of Garyan south of Tripoli. That could not be immediately verified, but if true, it would tighten the siege of the capital.
Tripoli is under no immediate threat, but the rebels are now in their strongest position since the uprising against Gaddafi’s rule began in February.
Gaddafi himself has been heard – though not seen – for the first time in weeks. In an audio broadcast on Monday from an undisclosed location, he urged Libyans to free the country from those he called the rats and “traitors”.