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Fighting Rages On Inside Tripoli

MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Coming up, we will look at the Obama administration's latest change to immigration policy. Officials are saying that they will only target violent criminals for deportation. Supporters are calling it just common sense. Critics of the new policies are saying it is amnesty in disguise. We'll talk about this with the head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in just a few minutes and we will also meet with a student we've talked with before who's fraternity brothers have rallied to stop his planned deportation.

That's coming up. But first to Libya, where rebel forces are inside Tripoli, but it is unclear how much of the capital city is under their control. As street battles rage between rebels and those loyal to Colonel Moammar Gadhafi, the whereabouts of the Libyan leader remain unknown. Joining us once again to shed light on this very fluid situation is Ambassador Ali Aujali. He represents the Libyan Transitional National Council in Washington. In February we first spoke with him when he resigned as the Gadhafi regime's ambassador to the U.S. in protest of Gadhafi's violent response to demonstrators.

Welcome back, thank you for joining us once again.

Ambassador ALI AUJALI: Thank you.

MARTIN: Also with us once again is Abderrahim Foukara. He is the Washington Bureau Chief for Al Jazeera International. He's been a regular guest on this program to shed light on the events in Libya and in the rest of the region. He's with us once again in Washington as well. Thank you so much for joining us once again.

ABDERRAHIM FOUKARA: Good to be with you.

MARTIN: Ambassador, obviously we want to start with you because the Transitional National Council has said that they control 85 percent of the capital on Monday. The rebels were saying that they had captured or had in custody two of Gadhafi's sons, including his political heir apparent, Saif al-Islam, but last night Saif was escorting reporters around the capital and saying that his father was safe and still in control, so can you just tell us what is in fact happening here? I'll just play a short clip of Saif al-Islam speaking to reporters, saying that - whatever he's saying. Here it is.


SAIF AL-ISLAM GADHAFI: We are here. This is our country, this is our country, this is our people and we live here and die here, and we are going to win .

MARTIN: Can you tell us what's happening, Ambassador?

AUJALI: Well, I think (unintelligible) Gadhafi's regime not looking to arrest Saif al-Islam in the first place, but of course our main goal is to get Gadhafi's and families out (unintelligible) and I believe the Gadhafi's intelligence they manage to play a good game to tell the people in Tripoli or in the revolutionary(ph) committee that Saif was arrested and they make it and they produce it nicely.

MARTIN: Oh, you think it was a part of a disinformation campaign?

AUJALI: It is a disinformation campaign exactly, that's what happened. But this disinformation campaign, they're supposed to gain more but they lose a lot because that information has spread all over Libya and then the first reaction of that, the brigades there are fighting in the brig. They surrender completely. The second thing (unintelligible) they recognize (unintelligible) and it is a lie, it takes some time to get rid of it and I think we are - it is over. It is behind.

MARTIN: You think it's over.

AUJALI: I think it's over, because now you see the 90 percent of Tripoli is controlled by the revolutionaries. Then the big fight now, it is Bab al-Aziziya. It looks like this is where Gadhafi and his children, his sons, are there, because they're fighting for the last few days, and now, the Libyans, they do understand it. Of course it is not very interesting news to receive, but that's exactly what's happened.

MARTIN: Well, there's also been concern though that revenge killings and other human rights abuses are being committed by the rebel forces now. Can you shed any light on that? Do you think that that is accurate?

AUJALI: This is not - revenge is not in our dictionary, and you see the way (unintelligible) he dealt with Mohammed, the son (unintelligible) they arrested him, and then Mohammed, he said no, I don't want to go with you, I want to stay in my house. And Mr. Aujali(ph) said okay. Can you see the way Mr. Aujali dealt with this issue? Then (unintelligible) individual (unintelligible) that is not the policy, or it is not our intention to do that. But this is war, mistakes can happen anytime.

But what about the Gadhafi, what he's doing with his own people? He killed them discriminately(ph) . He's now shelling his neighborhood, then it can happen. But Mr. Aujali made it very clear. He said if this is if anything happened like this, I will resign.

MARTIN: Abderrahim, can you shed light further on this? What are your sources at Al Jazeera saying about the extent to which the rebel forces control the capital? I'm going to also like you to expand on how the international community is responding to these events, particularly diplomatically?

FOUKARA: Well, and I mean just allow me to quickly talk about what we heard Saif al-Islam saying earlier. He's saying this is our country, we die - we live here and we die here, and absolutely correct. But it is also the country of millions of Libyans who feel that, first of all, he doesn't have a mandate to speak on their behalf. He wasn't elected. I don't know in what name or capacity he speaks when he does speak.

His father ruled the country for 42 years and large segments of the people in Libya are saying we've had enough of this and we want to change it. And finally, what's going on in Libya is part of a larger spirit, the spirit of the so-called Arab Spring. So if Gadhafi and his sons may be able to battle inside Libya, but they cannot battle it outside of Libya in the wider Arab world. Now...

MARTIN: We're looking at the ongoing battle for Libya with Ambassador Ali Aujali. He represents the Libyan Transitional National Council in Washington. Also with us, Abderrahim Foukara once again of Al Jazeera International. And you were saying, and you heard the ambassador say that the Egyptian government, the interim government in Egypt has recognized the transitional government. Have other governments also followed suit?

FOUKARA: Absolutely, I mean, that's the upside, if you will, of the Saif al-Islam episode yesterday, the transitional government saying that he was arrested but it turned out that, as the ambassador pointed out, the case was otherwise. But you know, that's a double-edged sword, actually, because on the one hand you have countries like Egypt and many others recognizing their transitional council because they - everybody felt that the game was over in Tripoli, turned out not quite yet, but the danger to what happened yesterday is that it was actually, I consider it an international scandal, because we the media, we got caught up in it.

We reported it as a fact, his arrest. The many Western governments hailed it as such. The ICC, the International Criminal Court, also hailed it as such. But this is particularly bad, I think, for the Transitional Council because for the head of the Transitional Council to actually talk about it as a fait accompli, done, in the bag, and then it turned out that Saif al-Islam was actually roaming the streets of Tripoli, free, regardless of what had actually happened. The truth of the situation, he was roaming the streets.

MARTIN: What do you to what do you attribute it at this point? And I understand this situation is still fluid. Do you think it is possible that this was part of a disinformation campaign, part of the fog of war? Because it is worth noting that The International Criminal Court did in fact confirm this, for whatever that means.

FOUKARA: I mean, my reading of it is that Libyans, obviously, who are fighting the regime of Gadhafi, they have history, they have the power of history on their side, no doubt about it. But there had been many occasions over the last six months since the uprising started in Libya when Libyans in various parts of the country celebrated something they thought was positive prematurely, turned out to be not quite the case. and I think what's happened over the last 24 hours is yet again an example of Libyans celebrating prematurely the death of the regime of Gadhafi. I think it's safe to say that it is in its - in its last throes, but I don't think it's safe to say it will be over in 24 hours or 48 hours.

I think that there has been premature celebration and somewhat that affects the credibility of the transitional council, knowing all the problems that he has encountered along the way. But having said that, for all the things that have been said about the transitional council being a ragtag army, for them to have actually stood up to a regime that has ruled Libya for 42 years, that has money, that has weapons and that has political cunning, I think is definitely credit to the council, also.

MARTIN: Ambassador, we have a couple of minutes left, so I wanted to ask, given that the situation in the capital is still very fluid, you said that you think it is over. What causes you to have such confidence that it is, in fact, over?

You heard Abderrahim say that the tide of history is on the side of the rebels. It's very clear that people have mounted resistance for this long in the face of such overwhelming odds. Clearly, there's a will on the part of significant numbers of people to fight this regime and bring it to a close, but what makes you so confident?

AUJALI: Well, of course, you know that is not so easy. I never expected that we would be able to able remove Gadhafi so easy. Forty-two years, he has everything, as Abderrahim mentioned. But now in Tripoli, 90 percent - this not in my report, but this is the international media is reporting - that 90 percent of Tripoli is under control.

And in the eastern part, it is, of course, it is completely under control, but in Tripoli and the Tripoli area, there are some pockets. We are dealing with them.

Now, who is in this fleet? In this fleet, the TNC. We don't see Gadhafi or Gadhafi's forces. Now, where is the (unintelligible) services for Gadhafi? It is under the TNC control.

I think Gadhafi and his son are living the last moment, the last days of their lives. How long does it take? Now, I don't know. But they are now surrounding in the area is not more than six (unintelligible) meters. It is a very close, very small area to handle it. But you know, Bab al-Azizia is not only one fence. It's three fences together before you can reach the middle of that, the center of that building.

MARTIN: Finally, before we let you go with a minute left in our conversation today and we thank you once again for joining us in such a busy time.

What are your efforts focused on now? You've been working - you were very early on in the process. You were one of the first major leaders to resign from the government and to secret mission for those who would end the regime. What is the focus of your efforts in Washington these days?

AUJALI: Well, I've told the commission of the United States of the TNC as a legitimate government. Now, my focus is how to get some of the first money under the control of the TNC. We need this money for the security. We need this money for stability and this is my priority now and not only that, but only - we're still looking for more commission from the international committee for the TNC.

MARTIN: What is your first challenge? We have about half a minute left. What is your first challenge if, as you believe is the case, the regime is soon to fall, if not immediately, but certainly very soon? What's your first priority then?

AUJALI: Well, I think there are two things. I have to take care of them. Is the budget and the security of the - these are the two things - and the security inside the areas being liberated from Gadhafi's control.

MARTIN: Ali Aujali represents the Libyan Transitional National Council in the United States. He resigned from the Gadhafi government in February in protest of the government's violent response to protesters. He was here with us once again in our studios in Washington, D.C., along with Abderrahim Foukara, the Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera International.

Gentlemen, I thank you both so much.

AUJALI: Thank you.

FOUKARA: Thank you.


MARTIN: Coming up, the Obama administration says it's revamping U.S. Immigration policy. First on the deportation list, illegal immigrants who have committed crimes. We'll hear from a student in Texas who's been fighting deportation and the chair of a congressional Hispanic caucus.

That's coming up on TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.