Misrata port open despite shelling

2011-05-03 17:02

Brussels - The port of Misrata is still accessible to ships despite relentless shelling by Muammar Gaddafi forces and a stray sea mine off the besieged Libyan city's harbour, Nato said on Tuesday.

With regime forces surrounding the city and controlling the airport, Misrata's port is the only point of entry for vital aid to a population tormented by tanks and artillery fire for two months.

Naato mine-sweepers were still looking on Tuesday for a mine drifting after warships caught Gaddafi forces laying the weapons in Misrata's harbour last Friday, said Italian Vice Admiral Rinaldo Veri. Two other mines were found and destroyed.

"Besides the mine issue, for the moment there is clear access into the port of Misrata," said Veri, adding that Nato had opened a sea corridor and that the port remained open.

"Thanks to the continuous military action which has been undertaken vis-a-vis the port of Misrata and the city, the port is still quite safe," he said, adding that rebels had expanded the city perimeter under their control.

"However the situation is still very critical and there is heavy shelling going on," Veri, head of Nato's maritime operations in Libya, told reporters via videoconference from his headquarters in Naples, Italy.

Nato aircraft destroyed three regime howitzers in Misrata late on Monday, he said.

Gaddafi tanks in city

The constant shelling has made it difficult for ships to arrive, causing a food shortage. After regime tanks pushed into the city, Misrata braced for more bombs on Tuesday as rebels ignored a Gaddafi ultimatum to surrender the city.

Veri denied that the conflict had reached a stalemate and rejected regime claims that Nato was trying to assassinate Gaddafi.

"Let's say that we are going slowly but steadily and after attacking the front line forces now we are trying to get hold of everything that [Gaddafi] can use to supply his front line forces," he said.

Nato vowed to keep pounding the regime's ammunition depots, communication lines and command and control centres.

"This is a job that needs patience, needs determination but we still have to keep going on and and we are still moving forward," Veri said.

He said Nato would keep up the pressure until Gaddafi stops attacking civilians, his troops retreat to barracks and the regime gives safe passage to humanitarian aid.