Gaddafi's troops capture oil town of Brega

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 22, 2011 11:40 AM
Gaddafi's troops capture oil town of Brega

By Mohammed Abbas

AJDABIYAH, Libya (Reuters) - Muammar Gaddafi's troops seized the strategic Libyan oil town of Brega Sunday forcing rebels to retreat under a heavy bombardment while world powers considered imposing a no-fly zone.

Losing Brega and its refinery further limits rebel access to fuel after the insurgents were pushed out of Ras Lanuf on Sunday, another major oil terminal some 100 km to the west along the coast road where all of Libya's important towns are located.

Defeated rebel soldiers were demoralized

"There's no uprising anymore," said rebel Nabeel Tijouri, whose heavy-machinegun had been destroyed in the fighting. "The other day we were in Ras Lanuf, then Brega, the day after tomorrow they will be in Benghazi."

"Brega has been cleansed of armed gangs," a Libyan government army source told state television.

Brega is 220 km (137 miles) south of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi with the town of Ajdabiyah the only sizeable town standing in the way. From Ajdabiyah there are roads to either Benghazi or Tobruk, close to the border with Egypt.

Libya's flat desert terrain means the government's air supremacy and big advantage in tanks outweighs the rebels' enthusiasm and light weaponry. Only towns and cities provide some cover for the insurgents and partially even the odds.

"He's out of Brega. He's on the way, maybe in half an hour his rockets will reach us here," said rebel fighter, Masoud Bwisir, at the western gate of Ajdabiyah.

NO-FLY ZONE

The speed of the government advance may overtake drawn-out diplomatic wrangling on whether or how to impose a no-fly zone.

The United States said a call by the Arab League for a U.N. no-fly zone over Libya was an "important step," but while Washington said it was preparing for "all contingencies," it has remained cautious over endorsing direct military intervention.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said the League had "officially asked the U.N. Security Council to impose a no-fly zone against any military action against the Libyan people."

That satisfies one of three conditions NATO agreed Friday are needed for it to take on the task of policing Libyan air space; that of strong Arab support. The others are proof that its help is needed and a U.N. Security Council resolution.

A NATO official said: "Regional support is one of the three conditions. For us the three conditions have not changed, and we do not have a U.N. mandate."

The United States does not want to appear to be leading the drive to oust Gaddafi and made no proposal for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

Even if the Security Council does meet to discuss a no-fly zone, it is far from clear whether it would pass a resolution as veto holders Russia and China have both publicly opposed the idea.

MUTINY?

Meanwhile fresh from crushing the revolt in Zawiyah, west of the capital Tripoli, elite government troops and tanks turned to Misrata, Libya's third biggest city and the only pocket of rebel resistance outside the east.

But a mutiny among government troops stalled their advance for a second day Sunday, rebels said.

"From the early morning they (the government troops) are fighting among each other. We hear the fighting," Mohammed, one of the rebel fighters, told Reuters by telephone.

"This division between them came to us from God. Just when we thought the end was coming, this happened. Now we are waiting to see what will happen."

The events could not be confirmed independently. Journalists have been prevented from reaching the city by the authorities. A government official in Tripoli dismissed the reports as rumours.

"There is a hard core of al Qaeda fighters there," said government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim. "It looks like a Zawiyah scenario. Some people will give up, some will disappear ... Tribal leaders are talking to them. Those who stay behind, we will deal with them accordingly."

It took a week of repeated assaults by government troops, backed by tanks and air power, to crush the uprising in Zawiyah, a much smaller town 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli.

The death toll in Zawiyah is unknown but much of the town was destroyed, with buildings around the main square showing gaping holes blown by tank rounds and rockets. Gaddafi's forces bulldozed a cemetery where rebel fighters had been buried.

After fighting ceased in Zawiyah Friday, one soldier there was asked about the fate of rebels. He made a throat-cutting gesture and laughed.

As in Zawiyah, the rebels in Misrata were heavily outgunned.

"We are bracing for a massacre," said Mohammad Ahmed, a rebel fighter. "We know it will happen and Misrata will be like Zawiyah, but we believe in God. We do not have the capabilities to fight Gaddafi and his forces. They have tanks and heavy weapons and we have our belief and trust in God."

(Additional reporting by Maria Golovnina and Michael Georgy in Tripoli, Tom Pfeiffer in Benghazi, Mariam Karouny in Ras Jdir, Tunisia, Alister Bull in Washington; Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Jon Boyle)