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Africa

Opposition launch assault on Sirte after NATO strikes

Video by Virginie HERZ , Mathieu Mabin

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-08-26

Opposition fighters prepared to attack Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte Friday after NATO warplanes bombed a military bunker near the loyalist bastion. There is mounting speculation that Gaddafi may have sought refuge in Sirte.

AFP – British warplanes bombed a bunker in Moamer Kadhafi's birthplace of Sirte as rebel fighters prepared Friday to attack the town, one of the last major regime holdouts east of Tripoli.

As insurgent leaders moved into Tripoli to begin a political transition, the African Union called for that process to be "inclusive."

And the UN human rights chief warned against assassinating Kadhafi, whose whereabouts are unknown and who has a $1.7 million rebel price on his head.

"At around midnight, a formation of Tornado GR4s... fired a salvo of Storm Shadow precision-guided missiles against a large headquarters bunker in Kadhafi's hometown of Sirte," the defence ministry said in London.
             
Speculation that Kadhafi might have found refuge in the town, which lies 360 kilometres (225 miles) east of Tripoli, has not been confirmed.
             
NATO said on Friday its planes had hit 29 armed vehicles and a "command and control node" in the vicinity of Sirte as they were advancing toward the rebel-held port of Misrata, about 140 kilometres away.
             
Regime forces in Sirte have been regularly targeted since the start of the campaign, an official said, but it is in sharp focus now because "it's one of the last places he (Kadhafi) has control of."
             
"It has always been a stronghold of the regime and now the remnants of the regime are using it to launch attacks," the official said.
             
"Misrata is one of those cities we have to protect. This regime, no matter what state it's in, is still capable of killing civilians."
             
Diehards of Kadhafi, whose son Seif al-Islam vowed from the start that loyalists would fight "to the last bullet", are still trying to reconstitute NATO-decimated weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, the official said.
             
"This large convoy is a very threatening move, as threatening as launching a missile."
             
"This is an extremely desperate and dangerous remnant of a former regime and they are obviously desperately trying to disrupt the fact that the Libyan people have started to take responsibility for their own country."
             
On Thursday, the National Transitional Council (NTC) moved many of its top figures from their Benghazi base, just days after rebel fighters overran Tripoli, going on to capture Kadhafi's headquarters and vast swathes of the capital.
             
NTC official Ali Tarhuni said their leader, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, would arrive as soon as the security situation permitted.
             
Abdel Nagib Mlegta, head of operations for the takeover of the capital said his fighters had control of 95 percent of the capital, with just a few pockets of resistance left in the districts of Salah al-Din and Abu Slim.
             
The rebel chief hoped to control Tripoli fully and capture Kadhafi within 72 hours.
             
Mlegta alleged that forces loyal to Kadhafi killed more than 150 prisoners with grenades in a "mass murder" as they fled the rebel takeover of Tripoli.
             
But Amnesty International said Friday that both sides had been guilty of abuses.
             
In Geneva, the UN human rights chief warned against bounty hunters who may be seeking to kill Kadhafi, saying assassinations are "not within the rule of law."
             
"That applies to Kadhafi as well as everybody else," said spokesman Rupert Colville in a response to a question about the reward for Khadafi, dead or alive.
             
Colville said the "best solution" would be to capture Kadhafi alive and follow through on an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant for suspected crimes against humanity.
             
The rebels are intent on finding Kadhafi so they can proclaim final victory in an uprising that began six months ago and was all but crushed by government forces before NATO warplanes gave crucial air support.
             
The African Union declined Friday to recognise Libya's rebel authority and instead called for the formation of an all-inclusive transitional government.
             
South African President Jacob Zuma said at the end of an AU Peace and Security Council meeting in Addis Ababa that the rebels were not yet legitimate.
             
The AU "encourages the Libyan stakeholders to accelerate the process leading to the formation of an all-inclusive transitional government that would be welcome to occupy a seat in the African Union", the bloc's Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra told reporters.
             
The rebels claimed a new military success Friday with the capture of Bu Kammash, west of Zuwarah on the coastal road to the Tunisian border, after low-intensity fighting with loyalist forces, an official said.
             
He said the rebels were advancing east towards Zelten, with the aim of   capturing the border post of Ras Jdir which is still held by regime forces and through which Kadhafi could escape.
             
With fighting continuing in a conflict that the NTC chief says has killed more than 20,000 people, the horror of the situation was highlighted at a hospital in Tripoli.
             
Eighty putrefying corpses lay around, apparently patients who died for lack of treatment because doctors had fled for fear of the pro-Kadhafi snipers in the neighbourhood.
             
Only 17 survived and were evacuated Friday by the Red Cross.
             
As the rebels worked to consolidate their gains politically, they were still desperately in need of funding.
             
NTC number two Mahmud Jibril said in Istanbul on Friday it was essential that the West release all of Libya's frozen assets.
             
"There will be high expectations after the collapse of the regime. The frozen assets must be released for the success of the new government to be established after the Kadhafi regime," he told a press conference.
             
"Salaries of civil servants need to be paid. The life needs to continue on its normal course," Jibril said, a day after senior diplomats of the Libya Contact Group met in Istanbul and agreed to speed up release of some $2.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets by the middle of next week.
             
At the same time, the UN Security Council released $1.5 billion of seized Libyan assets to be used for emergency aid. "The money will be moving within days," a US diplomat said.
             
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton warned that funds being released should not end up in the hands of Kadhafi loyalists.
 
 

 

 

Date created : 2011-08-26

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