Battle for Brega continues to rage

2011-04-03 18:58

Brega - The key Libyan oil town of Brega was again the theatre of heavy fighting on Sunday as rebel forces advanced only to be forced back in an ambush by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.

A former Libyan foreign minister and UN General Assembly president, Ali Treiki, became the latest in a string of officials to abandon the Gaddafi regime, while South African Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu said allowing Gaddafi to escape trial could be "the lesser of two evils" if it meant saving lives.

Rebel fighters, who had entered the front line eastern town of Brega early on Sunday, said they were staging a tactical withdrawal after being ambushed.

An AFP correspondent saw some 300 to 400 fighters regrouping on the road back into rebel-held territory some 10km to the east.

Loud explosions could still be heard from Brega's outskirts as the rebels' best-trained fighters took on the Gaddafi loyalists.

Most of the rebel volunteers acknowledged they had neither the military training and discipline, nor the knowledge of the terrain to mount a frontal assault on Brega.

They said they were dependent on the rebels' few trained fighters, most of them defectors from the regular army.

"There is no commander. We are all together," said Abdul Wahed Aguri, a 28-year-old volunteer.

Snipers

"We are not army. We can't move closer to Brega because we don't know where the enemy is. We don't [know] the area. We have to wait for the army [defectors]," he said, adding that might take a few hours or a whole day.

Intermittent explosions rocked the desert landscape as the rebel advance guard exchanged rocket and artillery fire with Gaddafi forces inside the town.

Aircraft from the Nato-led coalition enforcing a no-fly zone were heard overhead. The rebels said they heard air strikes on loyalist positions in the town overnight although there was no immediate confirmation from the alliance.

Earlier in the day, the rebels had pushed forward to seize the vast university campus on Brega's outskirts, an AFP correspondent witnessed before the retreat.

The town has been the scene of intense exchanges for several days with both sides advancing only to pull back under fire.

On Saturday, the rebels had claimed to have recaptured Brega, 800km east of the capital Tripoli, but pro-Gaddafi snipers were said to be still active and others were apparently holed up in the university.

A rebel spokesperson in Libya's third biggest city Misrata, 210km east of the capital, also reported fierce fighting on Saturday.

Treiki, the latest in a string of officials to abandon the Gaddafi regime, met Arab League chief Amr Mussa for talks in Cairo.

Second to resign

Treiki resigned his official duties as an adviser to Gaddafi but did not pledge allegiance to the rebels fighting to overthrow the Libyan regime, Arab League sources said.

He is the second high profile official to resign this week, after the defection of foreign minister and Gaddafi regime stalwart Mussa Kussa, who landed in Britain.

Former Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a leading figure in the fight against South Africa's white-minority regime who won the Nobel Prize for his stand against apartheid, told the BBC: "You keep having to balance what is a lesser evil. It's quite clear in the best of worlds it would be a good thing for us to say you clobber him, capture him and let him stand for trial.

"But we know that doesn't usually happen in the world in which we inhabit."

He added that "the lesser of two evils" could be to let Gaddafi "have a soft landing and save the lives of as many people as you possibly can".

In Libya, the chief rebel spokesperson told reporters coalition war planes had killed 13 people, four of them civilians, in an air raid some 15km east of Brega on Friday.

"Thirteen dead, seven injured by friendly fire. It was a regrettable occurrence," Abdulhafiz Ghoga said, calling them "unintentional deaths".

Protect civilians

"The leadership is working on preventing a recurrence."

A civilian rebel official said the dead civilians were an ambulance driver and three medical students from Libya's second city of Benghazi, the rebel stronghold in the east.

They had been part of a rebel convoy of five or six vehicles, said Issa Khamis, liaison officer for the rebels' transitional government in the town of Ajdabiya, east of Brega.

A spokesperson for Nato, which leads the international coalition enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya and protecting civilians from attack, said the alliance was looking into the reports.

"We are always concerned by reports of civilian casualties. Nato's mission is to protect civilians and civilian areas from the threat of attack," said Oana Lungescu.

In the rebel-held city of Misrata, a rebel spokesperson reported both close-quarters clashes, and tank and artillery fire.

He said Gaddafi's forces tried to enter the city on three fronts, but were pushed back. Two rebels were killed, he reported.

The spokesperson said snipers fired at anyone on the street, and reported a civilian driver shot dead. Rebel fighters killed seven snipers, he added.

Read more on:    nato  |  libya  |  libya protests  |  north africa  |  uprisings
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