By Alysha Love
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO accused Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on Tuesday of hiding army installations in civilian areas making those locations valid military targets and misleading international journalists by showing them bogus strike areas.
The military alliance said Gaddafi is aiming to discredit Western military efforts to protect civilians during the fighting, conducted under a United Nations mandate.
"Pro-Gaddafi forces are increasingly occupying facilities which once held a civilian purpose," Canadian Colonel Roland Lavoie, a NATO military spokesman, told a news briefing in Brussels.
He said Gaddafi forces took over places such as former stables, agricultural facilities, warehouses, factories, and food processing plants.
"By occupying ... these facilities, the regime has transformed them into military installations, from which it commands ... attacks, causing them to lose their formerly protected status and rendering them valid and necessary military objectives for NATO," Lavoie said.
Gaddafi officials portray NATO air strikes that target such facilities as attacks on civilian areas, he said.
"You will have seen the Gaddafi regime organizing rallies, taking international journalists to bogus strike areas, claiming that NATO is targeting civilian facilities," Lavoie said.
Lavoie also accused Gaddafi forces of using minefields and burning oil trenches, particularly in the areas of Brega and Misrata, in their efforts to combat rebel advances, further endangering civilians.
NATO continued to focus its air strikes against pro-Gaddafi forces in those two areas, he said.
"Our forces continue to focus on the highly contested areas of Brega and Misrata, including former civilian structures now used by the military. This is helping to alleviate the pressure on the population," Lavoie said.