Gaddafi seeks direct talks with Washington 'without the UN'

LONDON (Reuter) - Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, has called for direct talks with the United States, which he said could solve his country's dispute with the West over attacks on aircraft. In a two-and-a-half hour televised speech on Monday night to mark the 23rd anniversary of his coming to power, Colonel Gaddafi urged a committee set up by the Libyan legislature to 'negotiate directly with America' without going through the United Nations.

'Let this committee reach an understanding with America, Britain and France directly. Those are states we can end up as friends with,' he said in the broadcast, monitored by the BBC. 'I am certain that we can resolve our problem with America because we are free men,' he added.

The UN Security Council imposed sanctions against Libya on 15 April for failing to hand over two Libyans wanted over the 1988 Lockerbie disaster. The council had also accused Libya of failing to co-operate with an investigation into the mid-air bombing of a French airliner over Niger in 1989.

Col Gaddafi said that Arab countries with close ties to the US - such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia - could help make contacts between Washington and the Libyan committee.

Despite the call for talks, Col Gaddafi's tone was defiant. 'America knows that we . . . do not accept submission and we shall fight until the last man. Therefore the battle would be a serious one. America and others might avoid confrontation with people determined to die . . . a dispute does not necessarily serve their interests.'

A senior UN envoy told Col Gaddafi on 20 August that Libya must comply with the Security Council's resolution or run the risk of tighter sanctions. Tripoli had been lobbying for a postponement of a Security Council meeting on tighter sanctions.

The Libyan leader also condemned the West for imposing a no-fly zone in southern Iraq as an arrogant intervention in that country's affairs.

Col Gaddafi said Libya had over-extended itself and did not have enough money to pay civil servants. 'You have been saying that some people have not received their salaries. Yes, this means that there is no money. This is nothing to be ashamed of. If the oil revenue is not enough for health, education or salaries, that's no secret.'

The country had expanded too fast and the state should slash its role in the economy, he said. 'Public ownership should be ended and replaced by co-operative ownership, by popular socialist ownership. The state cannot undertake such massive enterprises . . .it is now time it turned them over to the people'.