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Rebel Troops Closing In On Qaddafi's Hometown

29.08.2011 08:32

Libyan rebels are on the outskirts of Muammar Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte, closing in from the east and west for what appears to be a final major battle for full control of the country.

Sirte has become one of the last bastions of pro-Qaddafi forces since rebel fighters last week defeated regime troops in Tripoli and seized control of Qaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya headquarters.

Fierce fighting also has been raging in the west of the country as rebels trying to take control of the region from Qaddafi's forces said they had fallen into an ambush in a town southwest of Zuwarah.

Muhammad al-Fortiya, a rebel commander from Misurata, said his forces moved to within 30 kilometers of Sirte from the west while other opposition fighters captured Bin Jawad about 100 kilometers to the east.

Rebels trying to advance westward from the oil hub of Ras Lanuf had been stuck for four days outside Bin Jawad, a key town on the coast road of the Gulf of Sirte, as Qaddafi's forces kept up a defiant resistance.

Qaddafi's whereabouts remain unknown. But there is widespread speculation that he has sought refuge among tribal supporters in Sirte, 360 kilometers east of Tripoli.

A substantial number of Qaddafi's troops were seen retreating to Sirte last week when the Bab al-Aziziya complex in the Libyan capital fell to opposition fighters.

Fortiya, the rebel commander, said rebel envoys were negotiating with tribal leaders in Sirte for a "peaceful surrender." But those negotiations appeared to be faltering.

Mahmud Shammam, a spokesman for the opposition's National Transitional Council, said rebels would like to unify Libya very quickly. But Shammam warned that negotiations would not go on forever.

Meanwhile, NATO warplanes have been targeting Sirte in recent days, destroying more than 50 military vehicles, two military shelters, a military observation point, and a facility for military engineers.

In Tripoli, the departure of pro-Qaddafi troops has allowed journalists and international human rights activists to uncover what they say is evidence of horrific crimes against political opponents of the regime during the uprising that started six months ago.

Human Rights Watch says it has collected evidence in Libya that "strongly suggests" Qaddafi's government forces carried out a spate of arbitrary killings as Tripoli was falling to rebel fighters last week.

In the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, opposition military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani said more than 10,000 captives have been freed from Qaddafi's jails since the fall of Tripoli but that almost 50,000 others are still missing. He said there are fears that the missing captives have either been executed or are imprisoned in underground fortifications where they are unable to escape and may soon die.

The justice minister in the rebels' interim government, Mohammed al-Alagi, said the allegations would be investigated by Libyans and leaders of Qaddafi's military units put on trial.

Alagi also said the council would not extradite the man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie airline bombing.

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who had been diagnosed with cancer, served eight years in a Scottish prison for masterminding the Lockerbie bombing, which killed 270 people.

He was released in 2009 on compassionate grounds after doctors gave him only months to live. There have been calls now for him to be sent to the United States for trial.

But Alagi ruled that out, saying "Abdelbaset al-Megrahi has already been judged once and will not be judged again. And with this American demand, [coming] from national organizations and not governmental ones, it is a demand that has no meaning. We will not hand over any Libyan nationals. It's Qaddafi who hands over Libyan nationals.''

A CNN television crew says they located Megrahi in a hospital in Tripoli over the weekend in a comatose state and near death, hooked up to a life-support machine.

As the National Transitional Council scrambled to try to restore basic services in Tripoli and appealed for funds, the Arab League on August 28 urged the UN Security Council to unlock billions of dollars in Libyan assets and property.

National Transitional Council officials in Tripoli say about 70 percent of homes in central Tripoli have no running water because of damage to the network, but potable water was being distributed from mosques.

Abed al-Obeidi, deputy chief of the transitional council in Tripoli, said the water shortages in the capital are the result of technical faults rather than sabotage by Qaddafi loyalists.

compiled from agency reports

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/libyas_rebels_will_not_release_megrahi/24310865.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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