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Libya rebels resume battle for key oil town

03 kwietnia, 2011

Heavy fighting between Libyan rebels and forces loyal to Moamer Kadhafi resumed on Sunday on the outskirts of the key oil town of Brega, an AFP journalist reported.

The rebels had claimed to have recaptured the town, 800 kilometres (500 miles) east of the capital Tripoli, on Saturday but pro-Kadhafi snipers were said to be still active and others were apparently holed up in the university.

Early on Sunday morning, the rebels pushed forward and were occupying the university\'s vast campus on the outskirts of Brega, according to an AFP journalist, while loyalist forces were understood to have been pushed back westwards.

Meanwhile, NATO was looking into reports of civilian deaths in a coalition air strike near Brega after rebels had claimed victory in the battle for the town.

A rebel spokesman in Libya\'s third biggest city Misrata, 210 kilometres (130 miles) east of the capital, also reported fierce fighting on Saturday.

And Scottish detectives and prosecutors investigating the Lockerbie bombing plan to meet Foreign Office officials on Monday to discuss Libyan foreign minister Mussa Kussa, who defected to Britain last week.

In Libya, the chief rebel spokesman told reporters that coalition warplanes had killed 13 people, four of them civilians, in an air raid some 15 kilometres (9 miles) east of Brega on Friday.

"Thirteen dead, seven injured by friendly fire. It was a regrettable occurrence," Abdulhafiz Ghoga said, calling them "unintentional deaths".

"The leadership is working on preventing a recurrence."

Earlier, a civilian rebel official said the dead civilians were an ambulance driver and three medical students from Libya\'s second city of Benghazi, the rebel stronghold in the east.

They had been part of a rebel convoy of five or six vehicles, said Issa Khamis, liaison officer for the rebels\' transitional government in the town of Ajdabiya, east of Brega.

A spokeswoman for NATO, which leads the international coalition enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya and protecting civilians from attack, said the alliance was looking into the reports.

"We are always concerned by reports of civilian casualties. NATO\'s mission is to protect civilians and civilian areas from the threat of attack," said Oana Lungescu. But she noted that no formal investigation had been launched.

Friday\'s air strike came as rebels shot tracer fire into the air to celebrate the entry of an advance column into Brega.

"It was a mistake" by the rebels, Khamis said. "The aircraft thought they were coming under attack and fired on the convoy."

On Saturday, a correspondent saw seven bodies of Kadhafi loyalists and at least 10 burnt-out pick-up trucks on the road between Ajdabiya and Brega, 80 kilometres (50 miles) to the west, bearing witness to the bitter fighting.

Jubilant rebels told how a strike by coalition aircraft took out at least two vehicles in a convoy of seven heavily armed pick-ups, and they finished off the rest with rocket-launchers in an ambush from a eucalyptus grove.

The vehicles of the pro-Kadhafi convoy and even the bodies were looted during the night and stripped of anything useful.

The rebels had already taken any serviceable guns and ammunition as they seek to counter the huge superiority in weaponry of Kadhafi\'s forces.

Brega has been the scene of intense exchanges over the past few days since pro-Kadhafi forces returned after being driven out.

In the rebel-held city of Misrata, a rebel spokesman reported both close-quarters clashes, and tank and artillery fire.

He said Kadhafi\'s forces tried to enter the city on three fronts, but were pushed back. Two rebels were killed, he reported.

The spokesman said snipers fired at anyone on the street, and reported a civilian driver shot dead. Rebel fighters killed seven snipers, he added.

"These are true crimes which must be stopped. Kadhafi troops are endangering civilian lives and using prohibited weapons," he charged.

In Benghazi, Transitional National Council leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil said the opposition was ready for a truce, provided regime forces end their assaults on rebel-held cities.

Government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim dismissed the offer outright.

"The rebels never offered peace. They don\'t offer peace, they are making impossible demands," he told reporters, calling the truce proposal a "trick."

A rebel spokesman, Mustafa Gheriani, said Tripoli\'s rejection of the offer showed Kadhafi "wants no peace -- he wants to inflict as much damage on the Libyan people as possible before leaving power."

The fate of the Libyan foreign minister remained unclear.

Kussa, a former head of Libyan intelligence and one-time member of Kadhafi\'s inner circle, flew to Britain from Tunisia on Wednesday and said he was resigning as foreign minister.

But Kussa was not offered immunity and Prime Minister David Cameron has urged police to follow the trail of evidence over the 1988 bombing of a Boeing 747 wherever it leads.

Libyan agent Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi is the only man convicted over the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, which killed 270 people.

Megrahi, who has terminal cancer, was released from a Scottish jail on compassionate grounds in August 2009, and received a hero\'s welcome in Libya.