* Libyans say British air strike hits oil field
* Gaddafi forces launch fresh assault on Misrata
* France sees risk of NATO getting "bogged down"
* Rebels regain ground near oil port Brega
(Libya accuses NATO of hitting oilfield, changes dateline)
By Maria Golovnina
TRIPOLI, April 7 Libya said a U.N.-mandated
British air strike had hit its major Sarir oilfield killing
three guards and damaging a pipeline connecting the field to a
"British warplanes have attacked, have carried out an air
strike against the Sarir oilfield which killed three oilfield
guards and other employees at the field were also injured,"
Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim told reporters.
There was no immediate official comment from Britain's
Ministry of Defence on Kaim's comments about the field.
Earlier, Muammar Gaddafi's forces unleashed mortar rounds,
tank fire and artillery shells on the western city of Misrata on
as a French minister said NATO air strikes in Libya risked
getting "bogged down".
Misrata, Libya's third city, rose up with other towns
against Muammar Gaddafi's rule in mid-February, and it is now
under attack by government troops after a violent crackdown put
an end to most protests elsewhere in the west of the country.
Rebels are angry at what they perceive to be a scaling back
of operations since NATO took over an air campaign, following an
early onslaught led by the United States, France and Britain
that at one stage tilted the war in the rebels' favour.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Gaddafi forces were
making it harder for alliance pilots to distinguish them from
civilians by hunkering down in populated areas. "The situation
is unclear. There is a risk of getting bogged down," he said.
Juppe told France Info radio he would address the issue of
tactics shortly with the head of NATO, adding Misrata's ordeal
"cannot go on". NATO has accused Gaddafi of using human shields
to make targeting harder for its warplanes.
Civil war in the vast North African desert oil producer
ignited in February when Gaddafi tried to crush pro-democracy
rallies against his 41-year rule inspired by uprisings that have
toppled or endangered other autocrats across the Arab world.
More on Middle East unrest: [nTOPMEAST] [nLDE71O2CH]
Libya Graphics link.reuters.com/neg68r
Interactive graphic link.reuters.com/puk87r
Stalemate on the battlefield in eastern Libya, defections
from Gaddafi's coterie and the plight of civilians ensnared in
fighting or running out of food and fuel has spurred a flurry of
diplomacy in pursuit of a peaceful solution.
But such efforts have made little headway, with the rebels
adamant that Gaddafi step down while the government, aware of
the limitations of Western intervention, has offered concessions
hinting at democratisation but insists he stay in power.
GADDAFI HITS REBEL OIL
In a blow to rebel finances, Gaddafi forces halted
production at rebel-held oilfields in eastern Libya, a rebel
spokesman said on Wednesday. Rebels want to resume exports to
raise revenue for their uprising.
Oilfields in Misla and the Waha area were hit by Gaddafi's
artillery on Tuesday and Wednesday, spokesman Hafiz Ghoga told
reporters in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
The Liberian-registered tanker Equator sailed from Marsa el
Hariga, near Tobruk, on Wednesday apparently with the first
cargo of crude sold by rebels since the uprising began in
February, shipping sources said.
U.N.-mandated air strikes have so far failed to halt attacks
by the Libyan army in besieged Misrata, where residents said
snipers on rooftops and tanks firing on populated areas of the
city have had a devastating effect.
"Gaddafi forces have changed tactics and are using human
shields in urban areas, including in Misrata," Britain's Foreign
Office said on Wednesday.
The head of Libya's rebel army has condemned NATO for its
slowness in ordering air strikes to protect civilians, saying
the alliance was "letting the people of Misrata die every day".
Juppe said: "We've formally requested that there be no
collateral damage for the civilian population ... That obviously
makes operations more difficult."
But General Abdel Fattah Younes was adamant that Gaddafi was
conducting massacres. "Day by day people are dying. Hundreds of
families are being wiped off the face of the earth. Patience has
its limits," he said.
Asked whether he found NATO's argument that it is trying to
prevent civilian casualties convincing he said:
"No, it's not convincing at all. NATO has other means. I
requested there be combat helicopters like Apaches and Tigers.
These damage tanks and armoured vehicles with exact precision
without harming civilians."
NATO ON THE DEFENSIVE
Libyan officials deny attacking civilians in Misrata, saying
they are fighting armed gangs linked to al Qaeda. Accounts from
Misrata cannot be independently verified as Libyan authorities
are not allowing journalists to report freely from there.
Rebel criticism has put the Western military alliance on the
defensive, particularly over Misrata. Spokeswoman Carmen Romero
said that "the pace of our operations continues unabated. The
ambition and the position of our strikes has not changed".
NATO air strikes are targeting Gaddafi's military
infrastructure but only to protect civilians, not to provide
close air support for rebels, much to their dismay, as part of a
no-fly zone mandated by the U.N. Security Council.
Relieving the siege of Misrata was a NATO priority but
alliance officials conceded that Gaddafi's army was proving a
resourceful and elusive target.
"The situation on the ground is constantly evolving.
Gaddafi's forces are changing tactics, using civilian vehicles,
hiding tanks in cities such as Misrata and using human shields
to hide behind," Romero told reporters in Brussels.
Misrata on Wednesday faced another heavy bombardment.
"There was firing on three fronts today, the port in the
east, the centre around Tripoli street and the west of the city.
Mortars, tank fire, and artillery were used to shell those
areas," rebel Abdelsalam said by telephone.
"NATO needs to either launch a serious operation to take out
all the heavy armoured vehicles, including tanks ... If they
don't want to do this, they should provide us with weapons to do
Meanwhile, living conditions in Misrata worsened.
"People are panicking, especially women, children and old
people. Most people left their homes for safer areas and found
refuge with other families," Abdelsalam said, adding:
"No fruit and vegetables have been available in Misrata for
over 25 days, bread is also difficult to find. People are scared
to go out because of the snipers and the indiscriminate
shelling. The upper-hand is still with Gaddafi's forces."
REBEL GAINS IN EAST
On the eastern battlefield, Libyan rebels regained ground in
a new advance on the oil port of Brega on Wednesday but also
accused NATO of inaction hindering their quest to oust Gaddafi.
Ill-trained insurgents thrust westwards to the contested
port, recovering mostly desert terrain lost in a pell-mell
retreat from Gaddafi's superior firepower the day before.
Rebels returning to the tiny outpost of al-Arbaeen, midway
between Brega and their frontline town of Ajdabiyah, spoke of
rocket duels close to Brega's port as both sides strived to end
a ragged stalemate in the civil war.
Rebel Idriss Abdel Karim complained of a lack of NATO
support. "(Government forces) are scared of NATO air strikes but
NATO doesn't bomb anything in the first place," he said.
"There have been no air strikes. We hear the sound, but they
don't bomb anything," said Hossam Ahmed, another rebel.
"What is NATO waiting for? We have cities being destroyed.
Ras Lanuf, Bin Jawad, Brega, and Gaddafi is destroying Misrata
completely," said Ajdabiyah resident Said Emburak.
(Additional reporting by Brian Love and Nick Vinocur in
Paris, Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Justyna Pawlak in Brussels,
Simon Cameron-Moore in Ankara, Angus Macswan in Benghazi, Tim
Castle, Joseph Nasr, Mariam Karouny and Marie-Louise Gumuchian;
writing by Mark Heinrich and Peter Millership)