'Libyan pro-democracy fighters killed in NATO air strike'

April 2, 2011 - 0:0

Pro-democracy forces in Libya say at least seven of their fighters have been killed in a NATO air strike on the outskirts of the eastern town of Brega, as the battle rages on for control of the oil port.

NATO said on Saturday that it is investigating reports that a coalition warplane struck pro-democracy forces near the front line of the battle with fighters loyal to the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Burnt out husks of at least four vehicles, including an ambulance, were seen by the side of the road near the eastern entrance to the oil town on Saturday, the Reuters news agency reported. Men prayed at freshly dug graves nearby as they buried their colleagues.
“Some of Gaddafi's forces sneaked in among the rebels and fired anti-aircraft guns in the air,” Mustafa Ali Omar, a pro-democracy fighter said. “After that the NATO forces came and bombed them.”
The Libyan government, meanwhile, has produced a video said to show civilians, including women and children, in a Brega hospital. They are believed to have been wounded as they tried to escape the air strikes.
Intense exchanges
The reports came as pro-democracy forces claimed victory over Gaddafi troops in the battle for Brega after heavy clashes.
Fighting appeared to have subsided on Saturday morning on the outskirts of the town and only the sound of NATO fighters flying overhead disturbed the calm.
Several residents told the AFP news agency that pro-democracy forces had recaptured the town and were trying to seek out a group of pro-Gaddafi snipers who were still active.
Brega, 800 km east of the capital, Tripoli, has been the scene of intense exchanges over the past few days when pro-Gaddafi forces returned after being driven out by pro-democracy fighters. But it has been unclear since Thursday who actually held the town, with anti-government forces regrouping in Ajdabiya, 80km to the east.
Al Jazeera's Laurence Lee, reporting from the eastern city of Benghazi, said his team was told that Gaddafi's forces have stopped using tanks “because they can be easily spotted by NATO airplanes”.
“Instead they are using pick-up trucks with mortars on the back which look a lot more like the rebel forces.
“Both sides now are basically mired in this stretch about 200km wide on the southeast tip of the Gulf of Sirt and that situation -- it seems increasingly -- can't change (...) So they have - despite all the bluster and the bravado - to find some sort of accommodation (...) Something's got to give.”
Ceasefire rejected
The developments came a day after the Libyan government rejected a conditional ceasefire offered by the pro-democracy transitional national council.
A Libyan government spokesman termed the conditions set by the opposition for a ceasefire “mad”, and asserted that troops loyal to Gaddafi will remain stationed where they are.
“They are asking us to withdraw from our own cities. .... If this is not mad then I don't know what this is. We will not leave our cities,” Mussa Ibrahim, the government spokesman, said on Friday.
Photo: Pro-democracy fighters prayed at the grave of fellow fighters who were killed in a coalition air strike. (Reuters photo)