PARIS – Libya’s rebels want to drive Moammar Gadhafi from power and see him tried – not have him killed, a European representative for the leading opposition group said in an interview Monday.
Ali Zeidan, an envoy for the Libyan National Transitional Council, also told The Associated Press that airstrikes led by France, Britain and the U.S. have helped the rebels, but that the opposition needs more weapons to win.
His comments suggested that rebels were considering a peaceful exit route for Gadhafi, whose autocratic 42-year reign in Libya has been marked by bloody battles between loyalist forces and rebels in recent weeks.
“You see, Gadhafi himself, we are able to target him, and we would like to have him alive to face the international or the Libyan court for his crime,” Zeidan said. “We don’t like to kill anybody … even Gadhafi himself.”
Western leaders have said allied missile strikes from air and sea since Saturday aimed at stopping Gadhafi’s forces from harming civilians under a U.N. Security Council resolution have neutralized the government’s air defenses.
Zeidan said the rebels don’t want any international forces to invade the country and believe “we are able to deal with Gadhafi’s forces by ourselves” as long as it’s a fair fight.
Even as combat continued, Zeidan said rebel fighters were only firing in self-defense – and were seeking to honor the ceasefire called for under the Security Council resolution.
“We have respected that, we are going to respect that, but if Gadhafi should shoot us, we will have to defend ourselves. He does not respect that,” he said. “(If) somebody starts to shoot, what? Are we going to kiss him?”
Zeidan suggested the air strikes could be pivotal in bringing down the regime: “If Gadhafi has no more of this heavy military machine, then the job will be done by the people in very short time.”
The opposition hopes that international forces will wrap up their campaign “as soon as possible,” so that protesters can return safely into the streets to demand – peacefully – for change in the government, Zeidan said.
Earlier Monday, Henri Guaino, a top adviser to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, said allied military intervention is likely to last “a while,” and that the U.N.-mandated goal of protecting civilians is not “totally achieved.”
France was the first country to give diplomatic recognition to Libya’s opposition and Sarkozy pushed hard for Arab world support for the no-fly zone authorized by the Security Council. While not called for under the U.N. resolution, Gadhafi’s ouster is a key aim of France and the rebels.
“Gadhafi must disappear. He should leave as soon as possible,” Zeidan said. “We would like to establish a new state on the basis of democracy … we do not want an Islamist government.”
He said his movement’s long-term goal is to improve education, health care and bring back 50,000 educated Libyans living in the United States and Europe to Libya, to restore the country’s intellectual fabric and economy.
Zeidan, who is based in Munich and has been traveling to European capitals to press the rebels’ cause, spoke to the AP ahead of meetings with French officials.