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Kadhafi regime claims contact with Libya rebels

By Dominique Soguel

BENGHAZI, Libya (AFP) - The Kadhafi regime said on Sunday it was in contact with members of the rebel National Transitional Council as the rebels tried to quash rumours about the mysterious death of their army chief.

In Tripoli, deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaaim said Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's government was in touch with members of the rebel NTC, but denied rumours of contacts with General Abdel Fatah Yunis, who was killed on Thursday.

"There are contacts with Mahmud Jibril (number two in the NTC), and (Ali) Essawy (in charge of external relations), (religious leader Ali) Sallabi and others," Kaaim told a news conference.

On talk of recent contacts between the regime and Yunis, Kaaim said: "He was in contact with the government during his visit in Italy two months ago.

"Since then we had no contact with him despite (the fact that) we still have other contact with other members of NTC but not with Abdel Fatah."

Kadhafi, meanwhile, on Saturday night renewed his pledge "never to abandon" the battle, in an audio tape broadcast on state television despite NATO air strikes earlier the same day on the broadcaster's headquarters in Tripoli.

Libya's enemies would be "defeated in the face of the resistance and courage of the Libyan people," he said in a speech following the strikes which Tripoli said killed three journalists.

The rebels, who have frequently denied having had any direct negotiations with Tripoli, sought to stamp out rumours by giving details on Yunis's killing and aimed to bring all militias under the control of the NTC interior ministry.

NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil said Yunis had been summoned from the front by a committee of four judges with the knowledge of the NTC's executive committee, the rebels' de facto government.

"The recall of General Fatah Yunis from Ajdabiya was based on a warrant that was issued with the knowledge of the executive committee" of the NTC, he told reporters.

"I don't know why this arrest (warrant) was issued and we don't know who was present at the meeting when the decision was made... or on what basis the decision was made."

On Thursday, Jalil said Yunis, linchpin of Kadhafi's regime before defecting to the rebels fighting to oust the strongman since February, had been killed by an armed group after being summoned to answer questions on military matters.

On Saturday, Jalil said Yunis died after being shot in the chest and head.

He ordered all brigades -- or katibas -- operating out of the rebel capital of Benghazi to disband and come under the fold of the interior ministry to boost security and unity.

Mahmud Shammam, who handles media relations for the rebels, slammed foreign and local journalists over coverage of the killing, saying "irresponsible news" was being published.

In Zuwaytina, the Union of Revolutionary Forces late on Saturday dismissed reports that Yunis was a traitor killed by

his own people for providing strategic military information to Kadhafi's regime.

"Anybody can say anything but all this big talk needs proof. The chief of staff was always with us from the beginning," said Fawzi Bukatif, spokesman for the Union of Revolutionary Forces and head of the February 17 brigade.

The Union of Revolutionary Forces, formed on July 13, provides a unified command structure for fighters from volunteer brigades, who now come under the authority of the rebels' defence ministry.

Meanwhile, the Benghazi villa of the murdered general was surrounded by checkpoints early on Sunday and no traffic was allowed on the coastal city's main highway amid unconfirmed reports of clashes.

South of Benghazi, rebels reported an attack by pro-Kadhafi forces on the southern oasis town of Jalo, but said it had been repulsed.

© 2011 AFP

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