Rebel forces have routed most of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s troops in the oil town of Brega in the biggest boost for the insurgents’ military campaign in eastern Libya in weeks, a rebel spokesman said yesterday.
The rebel fighters have encircled Brega, an oil export terminal with a refinery and chemical plant which for months marked the eastern limit of Qaddafi’s control, rebel spokesman Shamsiddin Abdulmolah said.
However, its streets are littered with landmines, making it hard to secure full control of the area.
“The main body [of Qaddafi’s forces] retreated to Ras Lanuf” to the west, Abdulmolah said by telephone. “I am told they have some four-wheel-drive trucks with machineguns spread out between Ras Lanuf and Bishr.”
While rebel fighters have been making gains in eastern and western Libya in recent days, Russia criticized the US and other countries for recognizing the rebel leadership as the legitimate government of Libya, saying they were taking sides in the insurgents’ five-month-old war to oust Qaddafi.
“Those who declare recognition stand fully on the side of one political force in a civil war,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow yesterday.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced US recognition of the rebels on Friday, while in Turkey for a meeting of an international contact group on Libya — a major diplomatic step that could unblock billions of dollars in frozen Libyan funds. Russia and China have taken a softer line towards Qaddafi, and neither attended the contact group meeting. Brega, about 750km east of Tripoli, is the site of a strategic oil terminal.
The attack could signal a new rebel push westwards from their main stronghold in the east of the country after weeks of stalemate.
Qaddafi is refusing to step down despite the five-month-old rebellion against his rule, a campaign of NATO air strikes, and the defections of members of his inner circle. The slow progress of the rebel military campaign has caused strains within NATO, some member states pressing for a negotiated solution to hasten the end of a conflict many thought would last only a few weeks.
Reports have circulated that Qaddafi is seeking a negotiated way out of the crisis, but in a speech on Saturday he described the rebels as worthless traitors and rejected suggestions that he was about to leave the country. Brega has changed hands several times in the back-and-forth fighting along Libya’s Mediterranean coast since the rebellion began in February. Rebels say taking it back will be a tipping point in the conflict on the eastern front.
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