Russia makes first contact with Libyan opposition

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (foreground-C) meets with Fatah member Azzam al-Ahmed (Backround 3-R) Mussa Abu Marzuk of Hamas (Background 3-L) , and Maher al-Taher (Background 2-L) of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and other members of the Plestinian delegation during their meeting in Moscow on May 23, 2011 
(AFP Photo /  Alexander Nemenov)
Members of the Libyan Central Transitional Council made an official visit to Moscow and said that they wanted officials in Tripoli to be participants at any future peace talks concerning their country. They also opposed a ground operation by NATO.

­Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held a meeting with Abdel Shalkam and other envoys of the Libyan opposition on Monday evening. Initially, the meeting was scheduled at an earlier date, so as to better coincide with official representatives from Tripoli , but it had to be delayed for undisclosed reasons.

At the May 17 talks with Muammar Qaddafi’s representatives, Lavrov said that Russia will not act as an intermediary at the talks between official Tripoli and the opposition but supported the idea of such talks and the mediating role of the African Union and the United Nations.

On Tuesday, Sergei Lavrov told reporters that representatives of the so called Central Transitional Council – the main government body of the rebels based in Benghazi – were not asking to be recognized as the only lawful authority in Libya, but recognized the right of Tripoli’s administration to talks. “Mr. Shalkam especially stressed that he was not asking for the Central Transitional Council to be recognized as the only lawful representation of the Libyan people, but rather sought for the council to be seen as a legitimate partner in talks,” the Russian minister said. He added that according to Shalkam, the other side, such as Tripoli and other regions of the country, must also take part in the talks.

Also, the Russian minister expressed hope that a feasible plan of Libyan settlement could be developed at the Wednesday session of the African Union. “I hope that some line can be drafted on the accommodating all sides that could put an end to the bloodshed,” Lavrov said.

The Libyan representatives expressed satisfaction with the Monday’s meeting and said that all sides had reached a mutual understanding regarding the official recognition of the Central Transitional Council.

Shalkam also strongly opposed the idea of a NATO ground operation in Libya. “No, never” he answered when Russian reporters asked him if he wanted such a development.   The Libyan opposition figure voiced this opinion after the council of foreign ministers of the European Union approved the ground military operation to support the humanitarian mission in Libya if the United Nations comes forward with such a request.

At the same time, the Libyan opposition leader said that peace in his country was impossible while Colonel Muammar Qaddafi was in power. “He is ready to kill the whole Libyan people just to stay in power. We are not going to hold talks with him,” Shalkam said of Qaddafi.

At present, the Central Transitional Council is recognized as a lawful Libyan government by only four nations – Italy, France, Gambia and Qatar. The United Kingdom has pondered the possibility of recognizing the Benghazi rebels as an authority, but so far, no decision has been made.