Libya government forces say to enter Gaddafi bastion

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 03, 2011 2:33 PM
Libya government forces say to enter Gaddafi bastion

NEAR TARHOUNA, Libya (Reuters) - The forces of Libya's interim government plan to move in the coming hours into the town of Bani Walid, a bastion of support for Muammar Gaddafi, a spokesman for the fighters said on Saturday.

"In a few hours we will enter, we will be in Bani Walid," Mahmoud Abdul Aziz told Reuters at a military checkpoint some 60 km (40 miles) north of Bani Walid, a town where commanders for the National Transitional Council said this week they believe Gaddafi himself may have taken refuge.

Abdul Aziz said NTC forces had been trying to negotiate the surrender of the town, 150 km (100 miles) south of Tripoli, but had lost patience: "Some people have asked for more time. But we gave them enough time," he said. "We've lost patience."

"They have no forces and our morale is high. Today at night, or tomorrow morning, we're going to open Bani Walid, we're going to attack."

In a war of words between the two sides, it was not clear how far such statements formed part of negotiations.

Earlier, a minister in the interim government in Tripoli said he had been told Bani Walid may have surrendered. However, fighters near the front said negotiations with local tribal leaders had so far come to no agreement.

NTC fighters said their forces had established a frontline about 30 km (20 miles) from the desert town. Near the checkpoint 60 km from Bani Walid, a Reuters correspondent saw considerable numbers of fighters, some of whom said they were preparing to move to Bani Walid, but there was no fighting.

Bani Walid, along with Sirte on the Mediterranean coast and Sabha deep in the Sahara desert, are the main pockets not under the control of NTC forces, which drove Gaddafi from his Tripoli headquarters early last week.

(Reporting by Mohammed Abbas; Writing by Barry Malone; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)