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Libya's Government Seeks Deal In Bani Walid

Libya Bani Walid

RAMI AL-SHAHEIBI   01/25/12 12:00 PM ET   AP

BENGHAZI, Libya — The Libyan defense minister held talks Wednesday with tribal leaders in a town overrun by locals loyal to former leader Moammar Gadhafi, an official said.

The recapture this week of Bani Walid, 90 miles (140 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli, was the first such organized operation by armed remnants of Gadhafi's regime.

But there were no immediate signs that the operation was part of some wider attempt to restore the family of Gadhafi, who was swept out of power in August and killed in the nearby city of Sirte in October. His sons, daughter and wife have been killed, arrested or have fled to neighboring countries.

Rather, the fighting seemed to reflect a rejection of Libya's new Western-backed authorities by a town that never quite accepted the revolutionaries' rule,

It also highlighted the still unresolved tensions between those who benefited under Gadhafi's regime and those now in power – tensions that are tightly wound up with Libya's tribal and regional rivalries.

Bani Walid government representative Mubarak al-Fatmani said Wednesday that Defense Minister Osama al-Juwali was "seeking a solution" to the clashes between Gadhafi loyalists and forces of the new regime.

Bani Walid was one of the last Gadhafi strongholds captured by the new leadership late last year.

On Wednesday, brigades loyal to the ruling National Transitional Council held positions and checkpoints outside Bani Walid as al-Juwali held the talks with the tribesmen inside the town.

Before the town's takeover, a simultaneous outbreak of shootings in the capital and Libya's second largest city, Benghazi, raised authorities' concerns that other networks of loyalists could stage operations elsewhere.

The security woes add to the difficulties of the NTC, which is struggling to establish its authority and show Libyans progress in stability and good government.

In New York, Ian Martin, the U.N. envoy to Libya, noted the problems at a Wednesday briefing to the U.N. Security Council.

"The former regime may have been toppled, but the harsh reality is that the Libyan people continue to have to live with its deep-rooted legacy," said Martin.

He characterized that legacy as "weak, at times absent, state institutions, coupled with the long absence of political parties and civil society organizations, which render the country's transition more difficult."

The Bani Walid fighting erupted on Monday, when hundreds of well-equipped and highly trained remnants of Gadhafi's forces battled for eight hours with the local pro-NTC revolutionary brigade, known as the May 28 Brigade, said al-Fatmani, the town representative. The brigade was driven out, and Gadhafi loyalists then raised their old green flag over buildings in the western city.

Four revolutionary fighters were killed and 25 others were wounded, al-Fatmani said.

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Additional reporting by Anita Snow at the U.N.

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Filed by Ryan Craggs  |