(Adds details of fighting in Sirte, quotes, Hague comments)
* NTC says it has captured Bani Walid
* Not clear if whole town under its control
* Fighting continues in Sirte, no sign of advance
By Barry Malone
TRIPOLI, Oct 17 - Libyan interim government
forces said on Monday they had raised the country's new flag
over Bani Walid, but it was not clear if they had captured the
whole town, one of the last bastions of pro-Muammar Gaddafi
Bani Walid and Gaddafi's home town, Sirte, are the only two
towns in the country where there is still armed resistance to
the rule of the National Transitional Council (NTC).
"We have reached the city centre (of Bani Walid) and have
raised the flag," Colonel Abdullah Naker, head of the Tripoli
Revolutionist Council, told Reuters on Sunday.
Fighters taking part in the assault on Bani Walid also told
Reuters they had entered the town, which is nestled into rocky
hills some 150 km (90 miles) south of Tripoli.
Bani Walid is an ancestral home to the Warfalla, Libya's
biggest tribe and one of its most politically influential. The
Warfalla number about one million out of the country's six
million population and were traditional supporters of Gaddafi.
The town has been under siege for weeks, with hundreds of
Gaddafi loyalists dug into its steep valleys and hills resisting
advancing interim government forces.
As well as ordering the military assault, NTC officials have
been negotiating with tribal leaders inside Bani Walid for its
A group claiming to represent the people of the town offered
a truce to Libya's new government on Monday. The tribal groups
said they would pledge loyalty to the NTC and take over the
town, but demanded in return the NTC withdraw its forces from
the area and lift the siege.
It was not clear how the government would respond or whether
NTC forces had already completely captured the town.
SIRTE FIGHTS ON
In Sirte, where Gaddafi loyalists have been under siege for
weeks, there was little or no sign of the disorganised NTC
forces making any progress on Monday and, amid chaos and
confusion, in some places they had even been pushed back.
A doctor for the medical aid charity Medecins Sans
Frontieres in Sirte has estimated 10,000 people remain trapped
in the city of 75,000. Many are women and children, some are
sick or injured.
NTC tanks and rockets bombarded a small area of central
Sirte where they have boxed in the remaining Gaddafi loyalists.
Libya's new leaders say they will only begin the transition to
democracy after they capture the city.
Frustration is growing on the front line. Some fighters are
irritated their commanders have not ordered a big push to take
the rest of the city.
There is also anger between government forces from Misrata
to the west and Benghazi to the east, who have accused each
other of hitting their allies in "friendly fire" incidents.
"What we are trying to do is to limit attacks from the east
and west to avoid friendly fire, and instead attack from the
south," said Mohammad Al Sabty, a field commander.
"We have lost a lot of martyrs in recent days," said Mustafa
Salim from a Misrata brigade. When Misrata units get close to
Benghazi units "it gets harder," he said. "They fire at us and
we fire at them."
Many NTC fighters abandon their positions at nightfall for
more comfortable quarters further from the front line. That
allows Gaddafi's men to infiltrate the lines during the night
and fire at them, sometimes from behind.
Government forces captured 15 Gaddafi loyalist fighters on
Monday, all of them black, a Reuters witness said. Gaddafi armed
many sub-Saharan Africans to fight for him and black people have
been subject to arbitrary reprisals by the NTC forces.
Some government fighters present tried to hit the newly
captured prisoners, but were held back by more senior officers
and the 15 men were marched off to the rear as NTC forces laid
down suppressing fire at nearby snipers.
The new government's forces have been accused of mistreating
prisoners and Amnesty International said in a report last week
it was in danger of repeating some of the abuses of Gaddafi's
rule, particularly through the use of arbitrary detention.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he would raise
the issue at a meeting later in the day with the head of the NTC
in Tripoli. "It's very important they keep the moral authority
by treating people well," Hague told reporters.
The often chaotic struggle for Sirte has killed scores of
people, left thousands homeless and laid waste to much of what
was once a showpiece Mediterranean city where Gaddafi
entertained foreign leaders.
(Additional reporting by Rania El Gamal and Tim Gaynor in
Sirte; Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Tim Pearce)