Libyan rebels taste victory

2011-03-05 15:47

Libyan rebels have captured the oil port town of Ras Lanouf from forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, their first military victory in what could be a long westward march from the opposition-held east of the country to the capital, Tripoli.

Witnesses said yesterday that Ras Lanouf, about 140km east of the Gaddafi stronghold of Sirte, fell to rebel hands on ­Friday night after a fierce battle with pro-regime forces. The latter ­later fled.

An Associated Press reporter who arrived in Ras Lanouf late yesterday morning saw Libya’s red, black and green pre-Gaddafi monarchy flag, adopted by the rebels, hoisted over the town’s oil facilities.

Witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. They said several fires were raging in Zawiya and that heavy black smoke hung over many parts of the city of about 200?000 people.

They said snipers were shooting anyone on sight on the streets as well as residents who ventured onto the balconies of their homes.

The witnesses said the city’s rebels had retreated to take new positions deeper inside the city.

“We will fight them on the streets and will never give up as long as Gaddafi is still in power,” said one of the rebel fighters, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, The Mirror newspaper reported that the UK government and aid agencies were worried that thousands of refugees were being prevented from leaving Libya.

Satellite images showed large numbers of refugees gathered near the border with Tunisia. However, the dramatic flow of migrant workers had all but ceased.

The United Nations’ refugee agency, the UNHCR, said pro-Gaddafi forces were now in control of the Ras Jedir border crossing. It added that it feared that thousands trying to flee were being held back.

Melissa Fleming, a spokesperson for the UNHCR, said: “We are very concerned. We have heard that those who did get across had their mobile phones and cameras stolen. Many appear to be scared.”

The UK’s international development secretary Andrew Mitchell, speaking during a 24-hour visit to a sprawling ­refugee camp in Tunisia yesterday, said: “It is worrying. The flow of people did not slow down, it came to an abrupt halt.”

– Sapa-AP, The ­Mirror

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