March 1, 2011 / 5:40 PM / 8 years ago

Leaders in eastern Libya forming volunteer army

AJDABIYAH, Libya (Reuters) - Leaders of the rebel forces holding eastern Libya are forming an army of volunteers and defectors and will advance on Tripoli once it is liberated from within, a rebel army officer said on Tuesday.

Captain Faris Zwei, among military officers in the east who had joined the opposition to Muammar Gaddafi, told Reuters there were more than 10,000 volunteers in Ajdabiyah, about 800 km (500 miles) from the capital which was still held by forces loyal to the Libyan leader.

“We are reorganising the army, which was almost completely destroyed by Gaddafi and his gang before they left,” he said. “We are reforming, as much as we can, the army from the youth that took part in the revolution.”

He added: “We’re currently waiting for Tripoli to free itself, and we will give them time to have this honour.”

Zwei declined to give a figure for the number of troops who had defected but said all forces were under the aegis of a newly formed military council encompassing all rebel-held areas.

“In Ajdabiya, we have more than 10,000 volunteers, not including official soldiers,” he said.

Other military officials have said they needed to train volunteer recruits first before making a push west.

The officers and other witnesses reported that an air force plane bombed close to a munitions store near Ajdabiyah on Monday.

The aircraft returned to attack the Haniyeh base a second time, striking close to a storage bunker inside the walls, they said.

“There was bombing here last night, but nothing was hit,” said Jumah Sayed, one of the civilians who had volunteered to guard the base. “If one of these bunkers were hit, everything would be destroyed for miles around.”

CRATES OF WEAPONS

Stacked floor to ceiling in bunkers at the site were crates of missiles, rockets, mortar rounds and other munitions of all calibres, orange dust lying thick on the crate lids.

Zwei, whose base was less than a kilometre from Haniyeh, said he was sure the air force pilots were missing their targets deliberately.

“We have complete confidence in the Libyan air force not to hit anything that affects their relatives in the east. And we see it with bombing away from targets. This is proof they have honour,” he said.

Last week, two Libyan pilots flew their fighter planes to Malta and defected, rather than attack anti-Gaddafi forces.

The United States said on Monday it was moving ships and planes closer to the country and Prime Minister David Cameron has said his government was working on preparation for the declaration of a “no-fly” zone to protect the Libyan people.

Volunteers guarding Haniyeh, some carrying Kalashniknovs and rocket launchers, said they did not know how to use heavy weaponry at the site. Few of them appeared to be professional soldiers.

The base comprises 35 bunkers. Three bunkers were seen by Reuters, as well as an adjoining hangar which a military expert said was packed with thousands of tonnes of munitions.

Most of it appeared in good order, although many boxes had a manufacture date from the 1970s.

Writing by Mohammed Abbas; editing by Andrew Dobbie

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