Gadhafi hometown bombed, rebels poised to attack
TRIPOLI — British warplanes bombed a bunker in Moamer Gadhafi’s birthplace of Sirte as rebel fighters prepared to attack the town, one of the last major regime holdouts east of Tripoli.
As insurgent leaders moved into Tripoli to begin a political transition, the African Union called Friday for that process to be “inclusive”, while the UN human rights chief warned against assassinating Gadhafi, whose whereabouts are unknown and who has a $1.7 million rebel price on his head.
On the ground, the rebels claimed a new military success Friday with the capture of Ras Jdir, a post on the border with Tunisia, which it was feared Gadhafi might use to escape Libya.
A Tunisian government official said Gadhafi loyalists fled as more than 100 rebels arrived at Ras Jdir and raised their flag.
A representative of the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) said on Tunisian television from Ras Jdir that four pro-Gadhafi fighters surrendered.
On the Sirte front, “a formation of Tornado GR4s… fired a salvo of Storm Shadow precision-guided missiles against a large headquarters bunker in Gadhafi’s hometown” on Thursday night, Britain’s defence ministry said.
Speculation that Gadhafi might have found refuge in the town, which lies 360 kilometres (225 miles) east of Tripoli, has not been confirmed.
NATO said on Friday its planes had hit 29 armed vehicles and a “command and control node” near Sirte as they advanced toward the rebel-held port of Misrata, about 140 kilometres away.
Regime forces in Sirte have been regularly targeted since the start of the campaign, an official said, but now “it’s one of the last places he (Gadhafi) has control of.”
“It has always been a stronghold of the regime and now the remnants of the regime are using it to launch attacks,” the official said.
“This is an extremely desperate and dangerous remnant of a former regime and they are obviously desperately trying to disrupt the fact that the Libyan people have started to take responsibility for their own country.”
On Thursday, the NTC moved many of its top figures from their Benghazi base to the capital, just days after rebel fighters overran Tripoli and captured Gadhafi’s headquarters.
NTC official Ali Tarhuni said their leader, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, would arrive as soon as the security situation permitted.
Abdel Nagib Mlegta, head of operations for the takeover of the capital, said his fighters now controlled 95 percent of Tripoli, with just a few pockets of resistance left.
They hoped to control Tripoli fully and capture Gadhafi within 72 hours.
Mlegta alleged that forces loyal to Gadhafi killed more than 150 prisoners with grenades in a “mass murder” as they fled the rebel takeover.
But Amnesty International said Friday that both sides had been guilty of abuses.
The United Nations, the African Union, the Arab League and the European Union urged all sides in Libya to avoid reprisals, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said after talks of the so-called Cairo Group.
“Colonel Gadhafi must avoid further bloodshed by relinquishing power and calling on those forces that continue to fight to lay down their arms and protect civilians,” she said.
She added: “Today, under UN leadership, we agreed to call on all parties to respect international humanitarian and international human rights obligations. There should be no reprisals.”
Ashton said after a videoconference that the Cairo Group, which also includes the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, “emphasised that the transition in Libya should be Libyan-led and inclusive.”
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said after the talks, which he chaired, that an international police force may need to be sent to Libya which is “awash” with small arms.
In Geneva, the UN human rights chief warned bounty hunters who may be seeking to kill Gadhafi, saying assassinations are “not within the rule of law.”
“That applies to Gadhafi as well as everybody else,” said spokesman Rupert Colville in a response to a question about the reward for Ghadafi, dead or alive.
Colville said the “best solution” would be to capture Gadhafi alive and follow through on an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant for suspected crimes against humanity.
The rebels want to find Gadhafi so they can proclaim final victory in an uprising that began six months ago and was all but crushed by government forces before NATO warplanes gave crucial air support.
The African Union declined Friday to recognise the NTC and instead called for the formation of an all-inclusive transitional government.
South African President Jacob Zuma said after an AU Peace and Security Council meeting in Addis Ababa that the rebels were not yet legitimate.
With fighting continuing in a conflict that the NTC chief says has killed more than 20,000 people, the horror of the situation was highlighted at a hospital in Tripoli.
Eighty putrefying corpses lay around, apparently patients who died for lack of treatment because doctors had fled for fear of the pro-Gadhafi snipers in the neighbourhood.
Only 17 survived and were evacuated Friday by the Red Cross.
As the rebels worked to consolidate their gains politically, they were still desperately in need of funding.
NTC number two Mahmud Jibril said in Istanbul on Friday it was essential that the West release all of Libya’s frozen assets for the success of the new government to be established after the Gadhafi regime.”
Warning of “high expectations” of the new rulers, he told a press conference: “Salaries of civil servants need to be paid. The life needs to continue on its normal course.”
On Thursday, senior diplomats of the Libya Contact Group agreed to speed up release of some $2.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets by the middle of next week.
At the same time, the UN Security Council released $1.5 billion of seized assets to be used for emergency aid. “The money will be moving within days,” a US diplomat said.
Egypt’s MENA news agency said Jibril arrived Friday in Cairo ahead of a special meeting of the Arab League that would see the NTC take over Libya’s seat from Gadhafi’s regime, suspended in February after the conflict began.
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