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Fierce fighting keeps Libya on the edge

Monday March 07, 2011 08:02:13 PM, IANS

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Tripoli: It was another day of pitched battles in Libya Monday with troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi battling rebels in several places as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed a special envoy to help control the situation.

The situation was grim with reports of heavy fighting in Ras Lanuf - home to an important oil refinery - and Misurata, where the opposition claimed to have captured pro-Gaddafi soldiers and interrogated them.

The violence since the unrest began Feb 14 has left, according to one estimate, around 6,000 people dead and forced around 140,000 people to flee the country. The pro-democracy protesters are demanding an end to the four-decade rule of Gaddafi, who came to power in a bloodless coup in 1969.

Opposition fighters Monday claimed Ras Lanuf still remains in their hands, Al Jazeera reported.

In Misurata, Mohammed Ali, a member of the civil committee for affairs, said pro-democracy activists were in control of the area.

"We have captured some Gaddafi soldiers, and we will interrogate them. They will be shown on television on Monday," he was quoted as saying.

"Our armoury is not a lot, but we have moral strength. We also need specific outside help," he said.

The situation in Misurata was tense Monday, a day after fighting in the city left at least 15 people dead and 38 injured.

Armed forces and tanks advanced inside the town, and fierce fighting took place inside an iron and steel factory, DPA had reported.

Opposition fighters attacked pro-Gaddafi forces Sunday in the outskirts of Az Zintan city and arrested 10 of them, including a colonel, Mussa Zwaeeb, a witness, said Monday.

In Brega, opposition fighters were making gains, but pro-Gaddafi forces also made some ground overnight, the media report said.

The situation was calm in Benghazi, Libya's second largest city where the unrest first broke out following the successful uprising in Tunisia and Egypt. The unrest in Libya soon spread across the country and rebels took over large swathes of land in the east.

Abu Sadr, an activist in Benghazi, said: "For the time being, government forces are not going to come into Benghazi unless it's an airforce attack. People here are very relaxed and we know for the time being we are safe from any ground attacks."

Some people, however, fear that pro-Gaddafi forces deliberately retreated to Gaddafi's hometown Sirte, drawing the "inexperienced and poorly-equipped" opposition fighters forward and leaving their towns exposed to a possible counter-offensive.

Hectic diplomatic efforts were made to bring the situation under control.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed former Jordanian foreign minister Abdelilah Al-Khatib as his special envoy to Libya.

A statement issued by Ban's spokesman said the special envoy is "to undertake urgent consultations with the authorities in Tripoli and in the region on the immediate humanitarian situation as well as the wider dimensions of the crisis", Xinhua reported.

RIA Novosti reported that the European Union (EU) has sent a high-level mission to assess the needs of the people and monitor evacuation efforts. The EU experts will report on the humanitarian situation in the oil-rich North African country to the emergency EU summit on Libya to be held in Brussels March 11.

For the refugees, the unrest in Libya has turned out to be a nightmare without end.

In Italy's Lampedusa island, at least 10 boats arrived from North Africa overnight carrying nearly 850 immigrants.

Coast guard officials said another boat with 100 immigrants was en route to the island.

The evacuees were transferred to the Dutch embassy shortly after the incident, but the marines remain in Libyan custody.

"We are doing everything we can. Due to the sensitivity of the matter, we cannot say when we had our last contact with the Libyans," the spokesperson said.







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