NATO denies telling Libya forces to quit Bani Walid

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 10, 2011 7:43 AM
NATO denies telling Libya forces to quit Bani Walid

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO denied a media report on Saturday that it had told forces loyal to Libya's Transitional National Council (NTC) to pull back from the town of Bani Walid in preparation for air strikes by the military alliance.

"NATO did not contact the rebel forces to let them pull back from positions on Bani Walid. We did not contact them, we don't have contacts with the NTC forces," a NATO official told Reuters.

Al Jazeera television had flashed an unsourced headline reporting that NATO had issued such a warning.

Libyan fighters are battling forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi for control of the desert town -- one of the last remaining strongholds of the former Libyan leader.

An NTC source in Tripoli said anti-Gaddafi fighters had been coordinating with NATO over Bani Walid but that he had not heard of a warning from NATO to withdraw.

Heavy fighting could be heard around Bani Walid and the coastal city of Sirte, Gaddafi's birthplace, Friday, a day ahead of a deadline for a negotiated surrender set by the NTC.

NTC officials said the truce was effectively over, paving the way for what could prove the final battles of a civil war that evolved from February's popular uprising against Gaddafi.

Columns of pro-NTC vehicles were heading toward the front line at Bani Walid to face what the NTC said were around 1,000 pro-Gaddafi soldiers defending the town and firing Grad rockets.

(Reporting by Charlie Dunmore and Edmund Blair; Editing by Kevin Liffey)