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NATO Regrets Deaths, 'Won't Apologize' For Strike On Libya Rebels

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 08.04.2011 15:01

NATO says it regrets the loss of life caused by an alliance air strike in Libya, but has refused to apologize over the incident.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen described as a "very unfortunate incident" the April 7 air strike on Libyan rebel tanks that killed at least two people.

The air strike mistakenly hit a tank near the eastern oil town of Brega, site of daily skirmishes between forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi and the opposition.

Rasmussen said he "strongly" regretted the loss of life and that alliance forces were doing everything possible to avoid harming civilians.

Rasmussen's comments came hours after the deputy commander of NATO's Libya operations said the alliance would not apologize for the incident, adding that the situation on the ground had been "extremely fluid."

Rear Admiral Russell Harding told a news briefing that the alliance had no previous information that the rebels were using tanks.

Earlier, the head of rebel forces in eastern Libya, Abdel Fattah Younes, told a news conference in Benghazi that the air strike did not cause tension with NATO, although the rebels wanted an explanation.

"There are a lot of people asking right now who bombed our tanks," Younes said. "Most probably NATO mistakenly struck us, but at the same time it is difficult to strike by mistake 20 tanks deployed in the desert."

Meanwhile, AP reported that thousands of civilians and fighters fled the nearby rebel-held city of Ajdabiya after reports that Qaddafi's forces gained ground in the chaos after the bombing.

It was the second time in less than a week that rebels said NATO had bombed their comrades by mistake.

Thirteen were killed in an air strike not far from the same spot on April 2.

Turkish Peace Plan

The developments come as Turkey outlined a proposal to end the seven-week-old conflict.

The plan, outlined by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on April 7, includes a cease-fire and a withdrawal of troops loyal to Qaddafi from besieged cities in the west.

"An actual cease-fire should be secured right away, and pro-Qaddafi forces should withdraw from the cities they are besieging in some Libyan provinces," Erdogan told a press conference in Ankara.

"Uninterrupted humanitarian aid should be provided to all Libyan brothers, without any discrimination and safe humanitarian corridors should be established for this purpose."

Erdogan added that an "inclusive process for democratic change should be launched immediately, taking the legitimate interests of Libyan people into consideration. The purpose of this process should be to secure constitutional democratic order, in which people will choose their own leaders with their free will."

He also assured the Libyan opposition that Turkey supported their demands.

The head of the rebel transitional council, Mustafa Abdul Jalal, told Al-Jazeera television that it would be ready to accept the proposal if Qaddafi and his family left the country.

Turkey, which has held talks with envoys from Qaddafi's government and representatives of the opposition, said it would share its road-map plan when a contact group on Libya is set to meet in Qatar on April 13.

Military 'Stalemate'

With fighting continuing near the contested port of Brega and an prolonged government assault on the western city of Misurata, a top U.S. general said the rebels were unlikely to be able to oust Qaddafi by force.

When asked at a Senate hearing in Washington how the war would end, the head of U.S. Africa Command, General Carter Ham, said, "I think it does not end militarily."

Asked if a stalemate was emerging in the conflict, Ham said, "I would agree with that at present, on the ground."

But NATO's Harding rejected that assessment, saying rival forces had been "moving up and down" a highway between Brega and Ajdabiya.

"If someone wants to define that as a stalemate that's fine, all I'm saying is that yes, it's fluid, but it's fluid in a relatively small area," he added.

compiled from agency reports

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/nato_wont_apologize_for_libyan_rebel_strike/3550720.html

Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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