Last throes of Libya war focus on Sirte

TRIPOLI Sun Aug 28, 2011 7:37pm EDT

1 of 22. Libyan rebels wave a Kingdom of Libya flag while standing on top of an armoured personnel carrier at a checkpoint outside the town of Brega, 240km (149 miles) southwest of the eastern city of Benghazi, August 28, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Darrin Zammit Lupi

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TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan rebel forces were converging on Muammar Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte on Monday, hoping to deliver the coup de grace of their revolution but uncertain if the fallen strongman was holed up there.

The fugitive Gaddafi's exact whereabouts where still not known and it was possible he was still in hiding in Tripoli, five days after it fell to rebel forces and his 42-year-old reign collapsed.

NATO war planes struck at Sirte, on the Mediterranean coast, for a third day on Sunday, a spokesman for the multi-national alliance said in Brussels.

"We're paying close attention to what's happening in Sirte because we know that there are remnants of the regime that are there," the spokesman said.

On the ground, rebel forces also closed in and said they would seize Sirte by force if negotiations for its surrender failed.

Gaddafi was born near Sirte, 450 km (300 miles) east of Tripoli, in 1942 and after he seized power in 1969 he built it up from a sleepy fishing village into an important city and power center of 100,000 people.

He still retains support and sympathy there, so whether or not he has chosen to retreat to the city to make a last stand, its capture will still be strategically and symbolically important to the rebels as they consolidate their victory.

One rebel commander said his forces were within 100 km (60 miles) of Sirte from the east and others were advancing from the west.

On the coastal highway east of Tripoli, tank transporters were carrying Soviet-designed T-55 tanks in the direction of Sirte. Rebels said the tanks were seized from an abandoned military base in Zlitan.

SKIRMISHES

Jamal Tunally, a rebel military commander in Misrata, told Reuters: "The front line is 30 km from Sirte. We think the Sirte situation will be resolved peacefully, God willing."

"Now we just need to find Gaddafi. I think he is still hiding underneath Bab al-Aziziyah like a rat," said Tunally, referring to Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli which rebels overran on Tuesday.

In the east, rebel fighters pushed 7 km (4 miles) past the village of Bin Jawad and secured the Nawfaliyah junction, a rebel spokesman said.

"We're going slowly," spokesman Mohammad Zawawi told Reuters. "We want to give more time for negotiations, to give a chance for those people trying to persuade the people inside Sirte to surrender and open their city."

In Tripoli, the rebel leadership sought to establish control after days of confusion and sporadic skirmishing with the remnants of Gaddafi's forces. Several explosions and intermittent gunfire were heard overnight Sunday.

The stench of rotting bodies and burning garbage still hung over the city and food, water and other supplies were running short, indications that despite the euphoria of victory, plenty of challenges lay ahead.

Gaddafi, 69, is on the run and the fear among his foes is that he intends to lead an insurgency against them. NTC officials rejected any idea of talks with him, saying he was a criminal who must be brought to justice.

"We did not negotiate when we were weak, and we won't negotiate now that we have liberated all of Libya," NTC information minister Mahmoud Shammam told a news conference.

The Associated Press earlier quoted Gaddafi's spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, as saying Gaddafi was still in Libya and wanted to discuss forming a transitional government with the NTC.

NTC officials say Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and his spy chief should be tried in Libya, although they are wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

The NTC and its Western backers are acutely aware of the need to prevent Libya collapsing into the kind of chaos that plagued Iraq for years after the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

The de facto government, whose leaders plan to move to Tripoli from Benghazi this week, is trying to impose security, restore basic services and revive the energy--based economy.

But in the aftermath of victory, many corpses have been found, some of slain Gaddafi soldiers, others the victims of killings in cold blood.

A Libyan official said 75 bodies had been found at the Abu Salim hospital, which was caught up in heavy fighting, and another 35 corpses were found at the Yurmuk hospital.

The possibility that rebel fighters executed captured Gaddafi soldiers would pose an image problem for the NTC.

Rebel military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Bani said there was concern for the fate of 40,000 prisoners who he said had been detained by Gaddafi's forces and who were still unaccounted for. It was possible some were being held in underground bunkers in Tripoli that rebels had been unable to locate.

GOOD OMENS

In good omens for economic recovery, officials said a vital gas export pipeline to Europe had been repaired and Libya's biggest refinery had survived the war intact.

In the west, Tunisian authorities reopened the main border crossing into Libya, restoring a supply route for Tripoli, after Gaddafi forces were driven out on Friday.

That should help relieve a looming humanitarian crisis in the city, where food, drinking water and medicines are scarce.

Trucks loaded with food and other goods were already moving across the Ras Jdir crossing toward Tripoli, about two hours' drive away.

Tripoli residents queued for bread or scoured grocery shops for food. Many took a stoical view of their plight.

"This is a tax we pay for our freedom," said Sanusi Idhan, a layer waiting to buy food.

The NTC issued messages urging electricity workers to get back to work and efforts to pay the salaries of public sector workers were underway.

(Additional reporting by Samia Nakhoul in Tripoli, Robert Birsel, Alex Dziadosz and Emma Farge in Benghazi; Writing by Angus MacSwan)

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Comments (10)
Invictuss wrote:
Abdelhakim Belhadj, sometimes written Belhaj is the new Libyan leader of the Tripoli Military Council. Among Islamists, he is known as Abu Abdullah Assadaq (sometimes written Sadeeq and sometimes Sadik), and yet another form, Abd ul-Hakin Belhadj. He is a “former” member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) (also known as Al-Jama’a al-Islamiyyah al-Muqatilah bi-Libya), which was formed specifically to oust Muammar Gaddafi. The group was banned internationally as a terrorist organization following the 9/11/01 terrorists attacks on the U.S. Today the group is known as the Libyan Islamic Movement. The LIGF had numerous ties to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. (you can find the complete article) Now you get the picture of who the “rebels” really are and what they are after….

Aug 28, 2011 1:28am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Ph0enix wrote:
Libyan rebels are racist

Media habitually tells us that Libyan rebels are noble freedom fighters, struggling aganist a bloodthirsty tyrant. But after all the buckets of half-truths and blatant lies, that news poured on our heads, treating us viewers like brainless sheep and feeding us half-baked reports that often got disproved the next day, some of us started to look further and investigate. What they found out, is extremely disturbing. Say, from the very beginning of war we’ve been hearing reports about “Gaddafi’s black mercenaries”. We even saw photos and videos of several people that, supposedly, were these mercenaries. But the whole truth is much more complicated – and scary.

Yes, there indeed are several divisions of black Africans and citizens of Chad in the army of Libya, that is formed on the principle of territorial militia. But they can hardly be considered mercenaries – not more than French Foreign Legion or non-American citizens in US Army. In general, the status of black men of Libyan army’s various units is civil servants.

In a country with 6 million inhabitants, one third are black (the most oppressed group in the country). Would not it be easier for the rebels to call for their solidarity and ask them join the rebel ranks? But not only black Libyans do not join the rebellion – they flee in terror.

The first wave of reports and evidence of beatings of black Africans began in February and March. The rebels, under the trademark of fighting with the mercenaries from Chad, were slaughtering all black people with no mercy. They even started to post various Youtube videos with their actions filmed (like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8bpNgB1oEk The victim was the Libyan citizen Hisham Mansour, born 22-02-1983). Back in early March, the Human Rights Watch even warned black migrant workers on the need to flee the revolutionary terrain.

“We left behind our friends from Chad. We left behind their bodies. We had 70 or 80 people from Chad working for our company. They cut them dead with pruning shears and axes, attacking them, saying you’re providing troops for Gaddafi. The Sudanese, the Chadians were massacred. We saw it ourselves. I am a worker, not a fighter. They took me from my house and [raped] my wife”, – a Turkish oilfield worker, who fled Libya, told BBC in February 25.

One of the editors of the Monthly Review, Yoshie Furuhashi, writes:

“The black African workers now live in fear in the territories held by the rebels in Libya. Some have been attacked by mobs, some have been imprisoned and some of their houses and shops have been torched. Many African workers say they felt safer under the regime of Gaddafi”.

In March, a reporter from the Daily Mail was in Benghazi and reported:

“Africans I saw ranged from a 20 year old and a late forties, with a grizzled beard. Most wore casual clothes. When they realized that I spoke English erupted in protests. “We did nothing,” one told me, before he was silenced. “We are all construction workers in Ghana. Do not harm anyone. ”

Another accused, a man in green overalls, showed the paint on their sleeves and said: “This is my job. I do not know how to shoot a gun ”

Abdul Nasser, 47, protested: “They lie about us. They took us out of our house at night when we were asleep. ” While still complaining, they were taken.

International Business Times published an article on March 2 that says:

“According to reports, over 150 black Africans at least a dozen different countries escaped from Libya by plane and landed at the airport in Nairobi, Kenya, with horrific stories of violence.”

“We were attacked by locals who said they were mercenaries who killed people. I mean blacks who refused to see “Julius told Reuters Kiluu, a construction supervisor for 60 years.

Michel Collon with a fact-finding delegation were in Libya in July and when he learned what had happened, he said:

“I met these people during my research in Tripoli. I could talk to some people. They were not “mercenaries,” as the rebels and the media tell. Some were dark-skinned Libyans (much of the population is of African type, in fact), others were black civilians from African countries who stayed in Libya for a long time. All support Gaddafi precisely because he opposes to racism and treats them as Arabs and Africans on an equal footing. On the contrary, the rebels in Benghazi are known for their racism, and blacks were victims of terrible systematic atrocities. The paradox is that NATO wants to bring democracy to a section of Al Qaeda and Libyan Ku Klux Klan-type racists”.

Here’s another footage, with English explanations given: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2IBT_dQpEY

After the rebels entered Tripoli, numerous reports of black men being killed appeared again. Twitter explodes with rebels’ messages about killing “African mercenaries”. In the chaos of embattled Tripoli, black people are being simply seized from the streets and taken somewhere openly.

http://i56.tinypic.com/63tx15.jpg

On the photo above we can see that the dead people’s hands are tied with plastic handcuffs and their clothes are relatively clean. This means these people were captured not after a fight, but deliberately.

The Colonel was being building good relations with the south of Africa. NATO plan of destabilizing Libya might as well include having the black Africans turning away from this country forever, using contempt and xenophobia of the rebels as a driving force of the persecution. After all, lynching black people simply for being in Africa sounds ridiculous. But results are pretty much of the same racist kind, and they are not funny at all.

Aug 28, 2011 12:53pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
USAPragmatist wrote:
@invictuss, by characterizing one person in a movement of perhaps millions with links to AL-Qaeda, you are not proving the whole movement is bad. That is assuming you are even correct. That would be like saying all Americans are Al-Qaeda sympathizers just because one American citizen is a member, and there are many.

Back to point of article, so far it has been mostly good news out of Libya in last week, let us hope this trend continues and the Libyans can form a solid, democratic government of their own doing. It is not our place, Western Powers, to dictate but to guide.

Aug 28, 2011 12:54pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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