France says Brega under control of Libyan rebels

TRIPOLI - Libyan rebels have taken over the eastern oil hub of Brega, France said on Tuesday, in their most significant advance in months against forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Tue 19 Jul 2011, 7:08 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 10:07 PM

Fighting for control of Brega, which would provide access to much of Libya’s eastern oil network, came as US and Libyan officials met for secret face-to-face talks.

Tripoli said it was seeking talks with no preconditions, but Washington said it had delivered the clear message that Gaddafi must go.

“The Libyan resistance forces are in the process of controlling the totality of the city (Brega) but I am not in a position to confirm exactly what is happening on the ground,” French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

“It represents progress on the ground by the action of Libyan rebel forces. It would seem to confirm the retreat and isolation of Gaddafi and his forces,” he told a media conference in Paris.

The Libyan government has denied that Brega has fallen to the rebels.

Saturday’s meeting with the Libyans was held “to deliver a clear and firm message that the only way to move forward is for Gaddafi to step down”, a US State Department official said.

“This was not a negotiation. It was the delivery of a message.” He said no more meetings were planned.

Libya said it welcomed discussions but only without preconditions.

“Any dialogue with the French, Americans, British is welcome,” government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told journalists in Tripoli. “We will discuss everything, but do not condition your peace talks. Let Libyans decide their future.”

He said the meeting was in Tunisia on Saturday. The US official said it followed repeated contacts from the Libyan leader’s emissaries.

France’s Valero said: “As panic takes over in the ranks around Gaddafi, we are seeing more and more emissaries of all types who are touring world capitals. When one of those comes within our range our message is always the same: Gaddafi must go.”

French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said Libyans were now certain that “Gaddafi is no longer an option for the future”.

“The countdown has begun ... but I am cautious because Gaddafi is not rational and he could opt for a bunker strategy, taking the whole civilian population of Tripoli hostage.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declined comment on the Libyan-US meeting, but said the world body was playing a central role in moves to present terms for Gaddafi to quit.

“There are many actors and the United Nations is playing a coordinating role. My special envoy is playing a central coordinating role,” Ban told Reuters in Geneva on Tuesday.

He was referring to his envoy Abdul Elah al-Khatib who took part in the international contact group meeting in Istanbul which agreed a road map whereby Gaddafi should relinquish power and plans for Libya’s transition to democracy. Khatib, a former Jordanian foreign minister, was authorised to present terms for Gaddafi to leave power.

Moscow meeting

Libya’s foreign minister is to meet his Russian opposite number in Moscow on Wednesday, Itar-Tass news agency said. The meeting, requested by the Libyans, would be first known visit by a Libyan government official to Moscow since the war began.

Russia has called for Gaddafi to go, but has criticised Western states for recognising the rebel leadership as Libya’s legitimate government, saying they were taking sides. Moscow emphasises it is in contact with both rebels and government.

After a long period of stalemate in the desert along the eastern front, the rebels said they had routed most of Gaddafi’s troops in Brega to the west, which has an oil refinery and terminal, and encircled the town.

More than 40 people on both sides were reported killed in the fighting since late last week for a city which for months marked the eastern limit of Gaddafi’s control.

The government denied the claim.

“Our brave soldiers are in Brega in their thousands and control it completely,” spokesman Ibrahim said.

He said the government had lost 30 soldiers over five days of fighting, but rebels had lost many times more.

A rebel spokesman said 12 rebels were killed and some 300 wounded on Saturday and Sunday. Most rebel forces were now past Brega and heading west.

Brega has changed hands several times in the back-and-forth fighting along Libya’s Mediterranean coast since the rebellion began in February.

Gaddafi is refusing to step down despite the rebellion, NATO air strikes and defections of members of his inner circle.

On Saturday — as his envoys met U.S. officials — he called rebels traitors and said he had no plans to leave the country.

A Reuters team in the western city of Misrata, a rebel stronghold, reported heavy bombardments from both rebel and government forces on Tuesday.

Libyan state television issued a call for men aged between 18 and 30 to join a brigade commanded by Gaddafi’s son Khamis, one of the government’s most important military units. Inducements included provision of a house.



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