Monday, July 18, 2011

Libyan rebels claim victory in battle for Brega

Libyan rebels say they are largely in control of the key eastern town of Brega, after close fighting in residential areas.

Rebels say forces loyal to Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi are retreating west towards the town of Ras Lanuf.

They say Brega has been heavily mined and there are still pockets of resistance.

It has not been possible to independently verify the rebel claims.

Brega, about 750km (465 miles) east of the capital Tripoli, has changed hands several times in the fighting along Libya's Mediterranean coast since the rebellion began in February.

"The bulk of Gaddafi's forces have retreated to Ras Lanuf," rebel spokesman Shamsiddin Abdulmolah told AFP news agency.

He said streets were littered with "an extraordinary number of anti-personnel mines", making it hard to fully secure the area.

The remnants of Col Gaddafi's troops in the town are holed up in industrial buildings with dwindling supplies, he added.

"Their food and water supplies are cut and they now will not be able to sleep. It is a matter of time before they come to their senses, we hope to prevent some bloodshed," he said.

Correspondents say the fall of Brega, if confirmed, would be a major breakthrough for anti-Gaddafi forces.

They have been advancing on the town for several days from the north-east, east and south-east, despite heavy artillery fire from government troops.

In a separate development on Monday, South Africa's President Jacob Zuma, who has led a mediation mission on behalf of the African Union, said that Libya needed a democratic government.

But he said that the Libyan people must decide their own destiny, and that if Col Gaddafi goes conditions must be in place as to when, where and how that happens. Mr Zuma made his comments during a joint news conference in South Africa's capital, Pretoria, with the visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Meanwhile, Russia has refused to recognise the rebel leadership as the legitimate government of Libya.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that such a move would amount to taking sides in a civil war.

His statement comes a day after the US and other Western and Arab powers recognised the Libyan opposition as the country's "legitimate governing authority" and repeated their demand that Col Gaddafi and his family should give up power.
Nato 'hits'

Nato aircraft have been targeting pro-Gaddafi forces near Brega in recent days, reporting hits on armoured vehicles and rocket launchers near the town, according to Reuters news agency.

Nato said its warplanes hit a military storage facility containing tanks, armoured personnel carriers and ammunition in Tripoli's eastern outskirts early on Sunday.

Col Gaddafi has refused to step down. In a speech on Saturday, he described the rebels as traitors and rejected suggestions that he was about to leave the country.

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