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Libya rebels battle Gaddafi forces in oil town

(Reuters) / 3 April 2011

Warplanes flew over Brega overnight as rebels fought troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi for control of the east Libyan oil town, rebel fighters said.

A Reuters correspondent waiting near the eastern gate of Brega, a sparsely populated settlement spread over more than 25 km (15 miles), heard the thud of explosions and machinegun fire on Sunday morning.

Black smoke rose further west and hundreds of cars carrying volunteer rebel fighters streamed away from the town. Later, half a dozen rockets struck near the gate. Rebels waiting there held their ground.

“Those planes that circled last night didn’t hit anything,” said rebel fighter Osama Abdullah, suggesting the absence of air strikes was the result of NATO taking command of the coalition forces from France, the United States and Britain.

“(French President Nicolas) Sarkozy is great but NATO is not,” said Abdullah.

A Western coalition air strike killed 13 rebels late on Friday near Brega’s eastern gate. The rebel leadership called the bombing an unfortunate mistake and said air strikes were still needed against Gaddafi’s better-armed units.

A friend of Abdullah who gave his name as Youssef said: “We need weapons that can fight against the tanks and Grads (rockets) that Gaddafi has”.

Comments from volunteer rebel fighters suggested that better trained anti-Gaddafi army units continue to battle government forces towards the centre of Brega, without any clear outcome.

The fighting in Brega has gone on for four days, with the rebels holding ground after beating a chaotic retreat from near Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte more than 300 km to the west.

The rebel leadership has sought to break the stalemate by deploying heavier weapons and a firmer line of command.

They have also sought to keep the less disciplined and lightly armed volunteers, and journalists, several kilometres (miles) east of the front line.

Rebel fighter Khaled Ahmed Mahdi said he heard bombardment overnight from his position some 20 km (12.4 miles) east of the town centre.

“We heard the sound of bombardment and then mortars and bullets,” he said. “Some clashes are continuing, but not a lot.”

 
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