Gaddafi forces enter key oil port, battle rebels

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 21, 2011 9:47 AM
Gaddafi forces enter key oil port, battle rebels

BREGA, Libya (Reuters) - Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi have entered the oil port of Ras Lanuf in the east of the country and are fighting for control of the town, rebels said on Friday.

Contacted by Reuters in the early hours from Brega to the east, rebel fighter Ibrahim al-Alwani said he and comrades still in Ras Lanuf had seen government troops in the town center.

"I saw maybe 150 men and three tanks," he said. "I can hear clashes."

Mohammed al-Mughrabi, who described himself as a spokesman for the rebels but declined to give his exact location, said by phone government troops had landed by boat near the Fadeel hotel in Ras Lanuf, where clashes were in progress.

"Four boats carrying 40 to 50 men each landed there. We are fighting them right now," he said.

Salam al-Burqy, another rebel fighter in Ras Lanuf, said by phone the rebels had retreated but were still in control of parts of the town. "We are in control of the residential area in Ras Lanuf," he said.

A fighter in Brega, who declined to be identified, said comrades in Ras Lanuf reported government forces had entered by boat and in tanks.

On Thursday, government warplanes and gunboats bombarded rebel positions in Ras Lanuf, more than 500 km (300 miles) east of Gaddafi's stronghold.

The bodies of four rebels killed in the fighting were brought to a hospital in Ajdabiyah, further east, along with 36 wounded, said Ibrahim Saeed, a doctor at the hospital.

Rebels also reported an air strike on Brega, another oil port 90 km (50 miles) to the east, on Thursday.

(Reporting by Mohammed Abbas and Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Louise Ireland)