NTC says its flag flies over Bani Walid

2011-10-17 14:07

Tripoli - Libyan interim government forces said on Monday they had raised the country's new flag over Bani Walid, one of the last bastions of pro-Muammar Gaddafi loyalists, but it was not yet clear if the town had been completely captured.

Along with Gaddafi's hometown Sirte, Bani Walid has been one of only two towns in Libya where there is still armed resistance to the rule of the National Transitional Council (NTC).

"We have reached the city centre [of Bani Walid] and have raised the flag," Colonel Abdullah Naker, head of the Tripoli Revolutionist Council, told Reuters on Sunday.

Fighters taking part in the assault on Bani Walid also told Reuters they had entered the town which is nestled into rocky hills some 150km south of Tripoli.

Bani Walid is an ancestral home to the Warfalla, Libya's biggest and one of its most politically-influential tribes. They number about a million out of the country's six million population and were traditional supporters of Gaddafi.

Bani Walid has been under siege for weeks, with hundreds of Gaddafi loyalists dug into its steep valleys and hills resisting advancing interim government forces.

As well as the military assault, NTC officials have been negotiating with tribal leaders inside Bani Walid for its surrender.

A group claiming to represent the people of the town issued an offer of a truce to Libya's new government on Monday. In return for pledging loyalty to the NTC, the tribal groups said they would take over the town, but demanded in return the NTC should withdraw its forces from the area and lift the siege.

It was not immediately clear what the government response would be to the offer, or whether the town had already been completely captured by NTC forces.

Sirte fights on

Meanwhile in Sirte, where Gaddafi loyalists have been under siege for weeks, there was little or no sign of NTC forces making any progress on Monday.

NTC fighters maintained their bombardment of a small area where they have boxed in the remaining Gaddafi loyalist in the centre of Sirte. Libya's new leaders say they will only begin the transition to democracy after they capture Sirte.

Some fighters on the ground have expressed irritation that their commanders had not ordered an advance.

A doctor for the medical aid charity Medecins Sans Frontieres in Sirte has estimated 10 000 people remain trapped in the city of 75 000 residents. Many are women and children, some are sick or injured.

The often chaotic struggle for Sirte has killed scores of people, left thousands homeless and laid waste to much of what was once a showpiece Mediterranean city where Gaddafi entertained foreign leaders.