Gaddafi forces take part of Misrata

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 28, 2011 2:54 PM
Gaddafi forces take part of Misrata

By Maria Golovnina

MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces have gained control in part of Misrata although fighting continued in what the government said was the "liberated" western Libyan city, rebels said.

International journalists were taken to a suburb in Libya's third largest city on Monday afternoon as part of a government escorted trip. A Libyan government spokesman referred to "liberated Misrata."

Constant crackle of automatic fire could be heard, both close and in the distance, and rising smoke could be seen from several parts of the city.

Around Tripoli Street, in a suburb in the southern part of the city and under the control of pro-Gaddafi forces, soldiers manned checkpoints. About four pro-Gaddafi gunmen were visible on rooftops around the area where journalists were taken.

Many buildings were riddled with bullet holes, windows were smashed and rubble from houses was visible.

Burned remnants of military and civilian vehicles, as well as fuel tanks, could be seen. There were few civilians inside and on the outskirts of the city. Some civilians came to where the journalists were. Women and children waved green flags.

"Misrata is ours, there are still some bad guys in other parts, but Gaddafi is winning, the city is ours," resident Abduq Karim said.

Although rebels have made recent advances in the east, Misrata was the only city under their control in the west. International organisations have expressed concern about humanitarian conditions in the besieged city.

On Monday afternoon the Libyan Foreign Ministry announced a ceasefire against what it called "terrorist groups" in the town, Libya's state news agency said.

"The city of Misrata now enjoys security and tranquility and public services have started to recover their ability to provide customary services to all citizens," it said.

An army official, who declined to give his name, said: "Yes there are still some bad guys. We squeezed them out but they are holding on by the skin of their teeth, there are less than 100 of them. We control the city." He added that no civilians were injured in any of the fighting in Misrata.

"Civilians are happy. Everything you are hearing is a lie. The function of our army is to save the people and to protect the leader. We cannot kill our own people."

"THERE IS NO CEASEFIRE"

Earlier on Monday, rebels said pro-Gaddafi forces had gained control in part of Misrata.

"Part of the city is under rebel control and the other part is under the control of forces loyal to Gaddafi," a rebel spokesman, who did not want to give his name, said.

Ali, another rebel spokesman, said the ceasefire announcement did not change the situation on the ground.

"There is no ceasefire," he said by satellite telephone. "About 15 to 30 minutes ago, they started randomly firing tank and artillery shells on the city and their snipers are still shooting at people."

Rebel Saadoun al-Misrati said pro-Gaddafi forces had been trying to advance on the eastern front and rebels were heavily engaged with them. "We are determined not to allow them to enter the main street to the east as they did with Tripoli Street."

Rebels and a resident said eight people were killed when forces loyal to Gaddafi resumed attacks on Sunday, ending a brief lull in fighting following Western air strikes.

Simon Brooks, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross operations in eastern Libya, said several aid organisations had delivered humanitarian relief supplies to Misrata by boat in recent days, even as they continue to seek permission from Libyan authorities to expand help in the west.

"The humanitarian situation there is fairly grave, fairly dire," he told Reuters. "Supplies are going in by boat."

(Additional reporting by Souhail Karam in Rabat, Mariam Karouny in Beirut and Dina Zayed in Cairo; writing by Adam Tanner and Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Louise Ireland)