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Elders are considering letting Libya rebels raise their flag in Bani Walid.
TARHOUNA, Libya — A patchwork of rebels from surrounding towns and from the east are marshaled on the dusty outskirts of Bani Walid.
For days, men have been waiting around in their battered trucks, one napping on top of his anti-aircraft gun, another stretched out on a blanket underneath his pick-up truck.
Elders from Bani Walid, a stronghold of Muammar al-Gaddafi, have been negotiating with the rebels to determine whether they will surrender, or fight.
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Tuesday heralded a possible breakthrough. Tribal elders from the Warfallah tribe, who control Bani Walid, met with intermediaries who are negotiating between the elders and the rebel leaders.
They agreed to convey a tentative plan to allow revolutionaries from Bani Walid to enter the city peacefully and raise the revolutionary flag — and avoid a fight.
But nothing is set in stone when negotiating with the fractured tribal structure that controls the town.
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“They already are going to have more negotiations with Bani Walid tribal leaders to discuss the steps ahead with the peace plan,” said Mohammed Warfallah Ben Mashud, one of the intermediaries between the tribes and revolutionary leaders. “The goal for all these negotiations is not to shed any more blood, because we’re all one Warfallah.”
The Saturday deadline, however, still holds. If the elders can’t agree by then, the National Transitional Council plans to take the town by force.
Several self-described Gaddafi soldiers caught fleeing Bani Walid described the situation as dire inside. They said they’ve had little food for months, and that most of the regular soldiers had already fled to Sirte.
They themselves fled with a group of about 15 regular soldiers. There’s a lot of small arms inside Bani Walid, one loyalist soldier said. But he couldn’t estimate the number of fighters left.
Near the last checkpoint before Bani Walid, a man with a group of 50 rebels from Tarhouna said they were ready to fight. “Most likely things are going well, most likely there will be no fight. But we are ready one way or another.”
While young, hardened rebels from the east are determined to go all the way until all the loyalist cities give in, rebels who are from Warfallah tribe welcome the progress on a peaceful resolution plan.
Meanwhile, sources from inside Bani Walid said that Gaddafi’s eldest son, Seif al-Islam, had been in the town 10 days ago. Another son, Saadi Gaddafi was there four days ago, they said. And the fallen regime’s spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, was believed to have left Bani Walid last night.
“There’s only a few members of the tribe who still support Gaddafi,” said Safe Al Afi, a revolutionary leader from Zliten. “But that minority has a lot of influence.”