(Adds Jufra's capture, chemical weapons find, Arrai TV report)
* Chemical weapons depot uncovered - NTC spokesman
* Bani Walid and Sirte still resisting
* NATO extends mission for three months
* Interim PM says new cabinet within 10 days
By William Maclean and Maria Golovnina
TRIPOLI/NORTH OF BANI WALID, Libya, Sept 21 (Reuters) -
Libya's interim rulers said on Wednesday they had captured one
of Muammar Gaddafi's last strongholds deep in the Sahara desert,
finding chemical weapons, and largely taken control of another.
With the National Transitional Council (NTC) struggling to
assert full control over the country, military spokesmen said
its forces had seized the outpost of Jufra about 700 km (435
miles) southeast of Tripoli, and most of Sabha.
"The whole of the Jufra area -- we have been told it has
been liberated," spokesman Fathi Bashaagha told reporters in the
city of Misrata. "There was a depot of chemical weapons and now
it is under the control of our fighters."
His comments could not be confirmed independently. Under
Gaddafi, Libya was supposed to have destroyed its stockpile of
chemical weapons in early 2004 as part of a rapprochement with
the West under which it also abandoned a nuclear programme.
However, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical
Weapons says Libya kept 9.5 tonnes of mustard gas at a secret
desert location, although it could no longer deliver it.
Gaddafi loyalists have been holding out in Jufra and Sabha
along with the bigger strongholds of Bani Walid, southeast of
Tripoli, and Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte since the fall of the
capital in August.
"We control most of Sabha apart from the al-Manshiya
district. This is still resisting, but it will fall," said
another NTC military spokesman, Ahmed Bani.
CNN, citing a correspondent in Sabha, reported that NTC
fighters had occupied its centre on Wednesday after taking the
airport and a fort the day before.
NATO countries gave the NTC another boost by extending for
three more months the air cover that helped anti-Gaddafi
fighters to victory.
However, chaos prevailed among fighters besieging Gaddafi's
other two remaining major strongholds. Several attempts by NTC
fighters to take Bani Walid and Sirte in the past week have
ended in disarray and panicked retreat.
At Bani Walid, bored militiamen fired weapons at camels and
sheep while awaiting orders on Wednesday, as much a danger to
themselves as to Gaddafi fighters holed up in the town.
One man shot his own head off and killed another fighter
while handling a rocket-propelled grenade in full view of a
Reuters team. In another incident, a fighter wounded himself and
another fighter after losing control of his machinegun.
Seven NTC fighters were also killed in an ambush by
pro-Gaddafi soldiers inside Bani Walid, NTC officials said.
At Bani Walid, troops from other areas have been arguing
with local fighters, and there has been talk of traitors
infiltrating the ranks and sabotaging the assault.
NTC official Abdullah Kenshil told Reuters that pro-Gaddafi
forces in Bani Walid had killed at least 16 civilians there in
the last two days after suspecting they supported the NTC.
"They were killed in cold blood. They were all civilians and
they were killed execution-style," he said. His account could
not be independently verified.
Sporadic fighting also continued outside Sirte, where an NTC
push from the east toward Gaddafi's birthplace has been blocked
for days by heavy artillery fire from loyalist soldiers.
Fighters making their way back from the front line said they
were meeting fierce resistance at Khamseen, 50 km (30 miles)
east of Sirte, and that they lacked the firepower to respond.
"I'm 100 percent sure that there is someone important in
Sirte, either Gaddafi himself or one of his sons, because his
forces have become suicidal in the Khamseen area," NTC fighter
Hamed al-Hachy told Reuters.
Efforts to take control of all of Libya's territory are
taking place alongside attempts to reshuffle the interim
government. A plan to do so this week collapsed after members of
the current council failed to agree.
The NTC has its roots in the eastern city of Benghazi, but
most of the fighters who captured Tripoli came from the west,
and Interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril is under pressure to
reflect this better in his cabinet.
Jibril said in New York, where he is attending the U.N.
General Assembly, that he expected to name a new government
within 10 days.
Among issues being debated were the number of ministries in
the new government and whether they would be in Tripoli or
divided between eastern and western Libya, he added.
U.S. President Barack Obama called on Gaddafi's loyalists to
give up and said the U.S. ambassador would return to Tripoli.
"Those still holding out must understand -- the old regime
is over, and it is time to lay down your arms and join the new
Libya," he said.
NATO, which took command of a military mission on March 31
under a U.N. mandate to protect Libyan civilians, agreed at a
meeting of ambassadors of its 28 member states in Brussels to
extend the mission for three more months, a NATO diplomat said.
Britain said its planes had struck at pro-Gaddafi troops in
three areas and destroyed bases in Sirte and Bani Walid.
The Syrian-based Arrai TV, which has broadcast several audio
messages from Gaddafi, his sons and his aides, said NATO
warships and planes had hit a hospital in Sirte on Wednesday,
wounding a Ukrainian doctor and patients.
It was not immediately possible to verify the report.
Previous allegations of NATO causing civilian deaths have rarely
been backed up with evidence.
Tunisia said its troops had killed several infiltrators on
Wednesday in clashes near the border with Algeria.
Helicopters destroyed seven vehicles mounted with
anti-aircraft guns, which had been used to fire at a Tunisian
army helicopter, a Defence Ministry spokesman said.
Armed Libyans clashed with Tunisian troops last month in the
final days before the fall of Tripoli.
(Reporting by Joseph Logan and Emma Farge in Tripoli, Maria
Golovnina north of Bani Walid, Alexander Dziadosz west of Sirte,
Sherine El Madany east of Sirte, David Brunnstrom in Brussels,
Barry Malone in Tunis, John Irish, Matt Spetalnick and Laura
MacInnis at the United Nations and Stephen Addison in London;
Writing by Barry Malone and Joseph Nasr; Editing by David Stamp)