Libyan tribal chiefs urge amnesty to all fighters

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Libya's tribal chiefs urged a general amnesty for all fighters engaged in the oil-rich nation's civil war, as Amnesty International said the regime's siege of Misrata could be a war crime.

Rebels, meanwhile, braced for a new ground assault by Moamer Kadhafi's forces on Misrata, the main bastion of the insurgents in western Libya.

The National Conference for Libyan Tribes in a meeting that ended late Friday called for a "general amnesty law which will include all those who were involved in the crisis and took up arms."

"The general amnesty law is a means of laying the path ahead for a new era of peace and forgiveness," it said in a statement, without providing further details on the law, or a timetable for its passage.

But doubts were cast on the call as the statement referred to Libyan rebels as "traitors" and pledged not to "abandon" or "forsake" the strongman, whose ouster the insurgents are demanding.

The statement also called for marches to "liberate" rebel-held towns.

"The conference also calls all Libyan tribes neighboring the towns and cities hijacked by armed groups to move peacefully in popular marches to liberate those hijacked towns, disarming the armed rebels," it said.

Libya is engulfed in a deadly rebellion against Kadhafi triggered by massive protests in February.

The protests were inspired by revolts that toppled long-time autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt and which escalated into war when Kadhafi's troops fired on demonstrators and protesters seized several eastern towns.

The port city of Misrata held by rebels was bracing for a fresh ground assault by Kadhafi forces.

Suleiman Fortiya, a Misrata representative from the rebels' National Transitional Council, said troops were massing in Zliten, outside the city.

"I am sure there will be a lot of fighting on the ground in the future. That is what Misrata is worried about because he (Kadhafi) is doing a big preparation to march on Misrata," Fortiya said.

"This army will be coming from Zliten and most likely will come wearing civilian clothes."

A resident of Misrata contacted by telephone said there had been clashes Friday on the outskirts of the city, including in Tumina suburb in the east, Tuya in the west, and Giran, about 20 kilometres to the south.

An aid worker said he had heard heavy artillery fire Friday afternoon coming from "deserted neighborhoods" in the city but was unable to determine which ones exactly.

Amnesty International said the two-month siege of Misrata by Kadhafi forces amounted to a possible war crime.

"The scale of the relentless attacks that we have seen by Kadhafi forces to intimidate the residents of Misrata for more than two months is truly horrifying," said Amnesty senior adviser Donatella Rovera.

"It shows a total disregard for the lives of ordinary people and is in clear breach of international humanitarian law," she said.

"The international community must give all possible support -- financial, legal and practical -- to those bodies trying to bring to justice those responsible for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Misrata and elsewhere in Libya."

The international community on Thursday decided to step up its efforts to help the anti-Kadhafi rebels.

At a meeting in Rome, the International Contact Group on Libya decided to provide an emergency humanitarian aid of $250 million to the rebels.

It also decided that the $60 billion overseas blocked assets of Kadhafi's regime to be used at a later date for aiding the rebels.

The immediate funds made available are far less than the $3 billion sought by the rebels, but their leader, Mahmud Jibril, described it as "a good start." He said $3 billion represents "a six-month budget."

At the Rome meeting, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had also called on the international community to expel diplomats loyal to Kadhafi.

On Friday, France announced it ordered 14 people who served as Libyan diplomats under Kadhafi's regime to leave the country within two days.

Britain has already expelled the Libyan ambassador and ordered two more envoys to leave London.

"Libya still, according to the international law, is one sovereign state and any use of the frozen assets, it's like piracy on the high seas," an angry Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said in response to the decisions taken in Rome.

Kaim said there would also be no let-up in the government's attempts to block off the maritime lifeline to Misrata.

"We will not allow those ships to bring arms to the city and then to evacuate some criminals," he said, after an International Organization for Migration ship offloaded supplies and onloaded refugees at the city's port under shelling by Kadhafi forces.

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