Two developments in recent days, signal a new phase in the civil war in Libya and a government fast running out of options.
Firstly, the welcome eviction of the last of the government sniper teams from the city centre of Misurata, which has forced an ominous change of tactics according to a statement made by Khaled Kaim, the deputy foreign minister on Saturday.
“There was an ultimatum to the Libyan army: if they cannot solve the problem in Misurata, then the people from Zliten, Tarhuna, Bani Walid and Tawargha will move in and they will talk to the rebels. If they don’t surrender, then they will engage them and fight.”
While it is unusual for a government to give “an ultimatum” to it’s own army, Kaim’s statement suggests that the government intends to arm and deploy civilians from neighbouring areas, possibly very soon, to regain the initiative and seize the port facilities at Qasr Ahmed. Reports on Saturday confirm that the city was still being shelled from positions outside the city.
The second development is an attempt by the government to muster the support of the Arab League for political reforms that would pave the way for a pro-Ghaddafi political party to return to power through the popular vote. The opposition has flatly rejected these overtures not simply because it feels that the Ghaddafis have no part to play in their future state but also because they fear his political patronage and wealth will unfairly favour loyalists, leaving Saif al-Islam at the reins of a new democratic state.
The International Community and the Arab League need to think hard about taking some more brave steps to prevent further institutionalisation of violence in Libya.