In Libya's Zintan, scene quieter after 8 rebels died

RABAT Thu Mar 24, 2011 8:21am EDT

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RABAT (Reuters) - A total of eight rebels have died in fighting around the western Libyan town of Zintan in recent days, although the situation was quieter Thursday, a Swiss journalist in the town said by telephone.

Forces of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi still have more than 30 tanks outside the town, Gaetan Vannay told Reuters. "But the city is not surrounded as it was four days ago."

Western warplanes have been attacking Libyan government tanks in recent days, although not in Zintan. It was not clear why government forces appear to have pulled back somewhat from the town, 90 miles southwest of the capital Tripoli.

Abdulrahman, a rebel spokesman, said the town turned quiet in the early evening of Wednesday after sporadic shelling, although he said that about 50 government tanks were positioned around the town.

When fighting flared over the weekend, many residents fled to caves in the mountainous region.

"The people have started moving back from the caves where they were for three or four days," said Vannay, who is on assignment for Radio Television Suisse. "Life is starting back a little bit. A few shops are open."

"People are still careful," said Vannay. "A lot of men are watching outside the city. It is still a city under military siege."

"But the mood has changed since Friday."

Wednesday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon criticized the Libyan government for their attacks in Zintan and Misrata.

One rebel soldier died in the Zintan hospital Wednesday from wounds received a few days prior, making him the eighth rebel fighter to die in recent days, Vannay said. About 20 are injured in the hospital, but some medical supplies have recently arrived. The town has electricity and well water.

A few rebel soldiers who were captured in recent days were questioned by government forces and released, Vannay said. "They let them go back to their families," he said.

(Additional reporting by Joseph Nasr in Berlin, editing by Diana Abdallah)

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