Global General

NATO splits on Libya as battle continues

Updated: 2011-04-17 15:28
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BENGHAZI, Libya - Libya's rebel forces, led by the newly-formed Transitional National Council (TNC), are advancing westward and fighting back bitterly with the government forces, town by town.

The rebels, backed by NATO airstrikes, have arrived in the east of the oil town of Brega to fight a tug of war with forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi. Battles also continued in some other places in the country, including the western city Misrata and Gadhafi's hometown Sirte. But the NATO countries have split over the scope of the alliance's military campaign.

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NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen reiterated on Friday that there was no "purely military solution" to the crisis. Reaching ceasefire with the pro-Gadhafi forces or not, the TNC, which played some role as an "interim government" of rebels, is facing pressures from two fronts - international and domestic.

An African Union (AU) delegation last Sunday arrived in Tripoli, capital of Libya, to mediate a ceasefire deal for the country. The delegation Monday traveled to Benghazi, stronghold of rebels in eastern Libya.

Mull Sebujja, Uganda's ambassador to Ethiopia, said that, under the international law, the sole legitimate government of Libya currently is the Gadhafi government.

AU supported the Libyan people's movement to win freedom, but it preferred to see the opposition win its rights and benefits in open and free elections, instead of resorting to force, said Sebujja.

However, Christopher Prentice, who traveled with the AU delegation to Banghazi, said that the Gadhafi government has lost its legitimacy as it attacked civilians.

The delegation said that Gadhafi had accepted the roadmap initiated by the AU. The TNC had talks with the AU delegation for nearly four hours, apparently under pressures from the AU and Western countries and domestic chaos.

The TNC rejected the AU roadmap for ceasefire, saying it did not include the ouster of Gadhafi. The council mainly relies on the support of residents in eastern Libya, who strongly wanted Gadhafi to step down. If the council accepted the AU deal, it would face a risk of collapse.

The 30-member TNC is chaired by Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, a former justice minister who split with Gadhafi. The Benghazi-based council supervises a military committee and a small "emergency government" which has established nine "small ministries," including "the foreign ministry," "the defence ministry" and "the interior ministry" to handle emergencies in such fields as security and foreign affairs in eastern Libya, rebels said.

The TNC now also governs some eastern cities like Benghazi, Albyada, Darnah and Tubrug through the city councils, some members of which are ex-officials from the Gadhafi government, rebels said.

Libyan rebels currently also control some key towns and ports to export oil. Rebel leader Abdul-Jalil has said that the Libya opposition will stick to the international treaties and agreements signed by the Libyan government and protect foreign citizens and companies and their investment in Libya.

The TNC is even drafting a new constitution.

However, rebels said that they lacked weapons and battlefield experiences and had difficulties in resisting offensives launched by Gadhafi forces.

Libya's rebel forces mainly consist of small loose groups. Each group normally embraces a dozen of fighters riding on five or six trucks and carrying AK-47 rifles, machine guns, anti-aircraft weapons and rockets. They have few heavy weapons like tanks.

Rebels are largely residents in eastern Libya who are hastily called for battle. Rebels have set up training camps for new soldiers and weapon factories in Benghazi and they are stepping up their "soldier-producing" campaigns to make up for their shortage of soldiers.

Rebels enjoy voluntary support from residents in eastern Libya, which is the key for their survival. In Benghazi and its nearby areas, local residents have set up at least five relief stations to provide food for rebel fighters and refugees who fled from the fighting near Aljidabya.

Rebels and residents have set up teams in Benghazi to provide free oil as the fuel price at gas stations in the city were seen dropping, instead of rising.

Pro- and anti-government fighters are continuing their battles in major towns across the country and NATO is still going on with its airstrikes. NATO on Saturday again hit targets in Sirte, some 600 km east of the capital Tripoli, after similar raids in the previous day.

Meanwhile, countries like Spain and the United States, which have withdrawn some 50 warplanes from Libya and transferred into a supporting role since handing over control of the mission to NATO, were turning a cold shoulder to France and Britain's pressing call to make a more robust contribution to the joint military actions in Libya.

Earlier in the week, NATO members were already in discord in the first meeting of the Contact Group on Libya on whether the international community could provide the rebel army with arms.

Ceasefire or not, rebel forces in Libya, which suffered a prolonged conflict, have to make a choice.