Sunday, April 3, 2011

THE oil town of Brega saw more heavy fighting as rebels advanced then fell back after being ambushed.

Former foreign minister and UN General Assembly president Ali Treiki became the latest official to abandon Kadhafi, after the flight to Britain of foreign minister and regime stalwart, Mussa Kussa earlier in the week.

A British delegation was also reported to be in the Libyan rebel bastion of Benghazi in the east, nearly a month after a botched bid by special forces to contact the insurgency caused red faces in London when the team was captured.

Rebel spokesman Mustafa Gheriani confirmed the presence of a British group in the country's second largest city for talks with the Transitional National Council (TNC).

A British Foreign Office spokesperson also confirmed the trip, saying the team was led by Christopher Prentice, who also visited Libya last week.

The spokesperson said the aim of the trip was to "engage with key figures" on the TNC, "build on the work of the previous team and seek to establish further information" about the council and its aims.

On March 7, London called the seizure by rebels of a team - reportedly six elite Special Air Service troopers and two diplomats - in a botched attempt to contact the insurgency the result of a "serious misunderstanding."

On the front line, rebels who had entered the eastern town of Brega early on Sunday said they were staging a tactical withdrawal after being ambushed.

A correspondent saw some 300 to 400 fighters regrouping on the road back into rebel-held territory some 10 kilometres to the east.

Loud explosions could still be heard from Brega's outskirts as the rebels' best-trained fighters took on the Kadhafi loyalists.

Most of the rebel volunteers acknowledged they lacked the military training, discipline and knowledge of the terrain to mount a frontal assault on Brega.

They said they were dependent on the rebels' few trained fighters, mostly defectors from the regular army.

"There is no commander. We are all together," said Abdul Wahed Aguri, a 28-year-old.

"We are not army. We can't move closer to Brega because we don't know where the enemy is. We don't know the area. We have to wait for the army (defectors)," he said, adding that could take a whole day.

Intermittent explosions rumbled across the desert landscape as the rebel vanguard traded rocket and artillery fire with Kadhafi forces inside the town.

Aircraft from the NATO-led coalition enforcing a no-fly zone were heard overhead. The rebels said they heard air strikes on loyalist positions in the town overnight, although there was no immediate confirmation from the alliance.

Earlier, the rebels pushed forward to seize the vast university campus on Brega's outskirts, a correspondent witnessed before the retreat.

The town has been the scene of intense exchanges for several days, with both sides advancing only to withdraw again later under fire.

On Saturday, the rebels had claimed to have recaptured Brega, 800 kilometres east of the capital Tripoli, but pro-Kadhafi snipers were said to be still active and others were apparently holed up in the university.

A rebel spokesman in Libya's third biggest city Misrata, 210 kilometres east of the capital, reported fierce fighting there.

He said Kadhafi's forces tried to enter the city on three fronts, but were pushed back. Snipers fired at anyone on the street, he said, reporting one civilian shot dead. Rebels also killed seven snipers, he added.

Treiki, the latest in a string of officials to abandon the Kadhafi regime, met Arab League chief Amr Mussa for talks in Cairo on Sunday.

Treiki resigned his official duties as an adviser to Kadhafi but did not pledge allegiance to the rebels, Arab League sources said.

He was Tripoli's envoy to the United Nations until 2009 when he became president of the UN General Assembly. He also served as Libya's ambassador to France, African affairs minister, and foreign minister in the 1970s and 1980s.

Former Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a leader in the fight against South Africa's white-minority regime who won the Nobel Prize for his stand against apartheid, told the BBC of Kadhafi: "You keep having to balance what is a lesser evil.

"It's quite clear in the best of worlds it would be a good thing for us to say you clobber him, capture him and let him stand for trial.

"But we know that doesn't usually happen in the world in which we inhabit."

He added that "the lesser of two evils" could be to let Kadhafi "have a soft landing and save the lives of as many people as you possibly can."

The chief rebel spokesman told reporters coalition warplanes had killed 13 people, four of them civilians, in an air raid some 15 kilometres east of Brega on Friday.

"Thirteen dead, seven injured by friendly fire. It was a regrettable occurrence," Abdulhafiz Ghoga said, calling them "unintentional deaths."

"The leadership is working on preventing a recurrence."

A spokeswoman for NATO, which leads the international coalition enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya and protecting civilians from attack, said the alliance was examining the reports.

"We are always concerned by reports of civilian casualties. NATO's mission is to protect civilians and civilian areas from the threat of attack," said Oana Lungescu.


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