‘Paranoid’ Gaddafi sows minefield around Misrata

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has become “increasingly paranoid”, a diplomat says, spending each night in a different hospital, and laying minefields around battleground cities.

“He is moving from one place that we won’t bomb to another place that we won’t bomb,” a diplomat said on condition of anonymity, citing British intelligence reports.

In France, G8 leaders underscored their unity in calling for Gaddafi’s exit from power, as Nato reported that Gaddafi’s forces had laid landmines in Misrata.

And British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Friday that the Nato mission against Gaddafi had entered “a new phase”.

Cameron said his decision to deploy British Apache helicopter gunships in Libya would also help the military operation to stop Gaddafi’s forces killing civilians.

“There are signs that the momentum against Gaddafi is really building. The regime is on the back foot,” he added.

Russia comes round
In a dramatic shift, meanwhile, Russia joined the call of Western powers for Gaddafi to step down but the outgoing head of the Arab League Amer Mussa said he doubted the embattled leader would leave voluntarily.

After talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the G8 summit in the French resort of Deauville, President Obama warned that the “UN mandate of civilian protection cannot be accomplished when Gaddafi remains in Libya directing his forces in acts of aggression against the Libyan people.”

G8 leaders from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States called in the draft of their final summit statement for Gaddafi to step down.

“Gaddafi and the Libyan government have failed to fulfil their responsibility to protect the Libyan population and have lost all legitimacy. He has no future in a free, democratic Libya. He must go,” the draft summit statement said.

Ahead of the summit, Russia — which has criticised the Nato air war on Gaddafi’s regime — was seen as reluctant to take a hard line, but it too toughened its stance on Libya during the Deauville meeting.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said: “Yes, we are ready to admit … he needs to go. We believe that Colonel Gaddafi has forfeited legitimacy due to his actions … indeed we need to help him go.”

But the Arab League’s Mussa said there was a yawning gap between Tripoli and the rebel National Transitional Council on the question of Gaddafi, with the rebels demanding he go immediately and the regime saving his exit for “later”.

“Knowing the man, I don’t think he’s going to step down,” he said.

Nato accused Gaddafi’s forces of laying landmines in Misrata, the main rebel-held city in western Libya.

“This morning’s reports showed that a minefield was laid in the Misrata area,” Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, the commander of the Nato mission in Libya, told a Brussels news conference.

“Anti-personnel landmines, in contravention to international law, had been laid in the Misrata area to prevent the population from moving,” he said. “Mines do not differentiate between children or adults.”

Bouchard also said Nato was gearing up to deploy French and British attack helicopters against Gaddafi’s forces as soon as possible.

He welcomed the arrival of four French Tattack helicopters and four British Appaches as particularly “timely”.

The low-flying helicopters would allow Nato to conduct an “effective and aggressive” mission against Gaddafi’s forces and make it easier to pinpoint vehicles involved in attacks against civilian populations, he said

Two international rights groups, meanwhile, said on Friday Gaddafi’s forces are indiscriminately attacking towns in the Nafusa mountains of western Libya, sending residents fleeing, with some being forced to live in caves.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report released Friday that Gaddafi’s forces have been pounding towns in the Nafusa mountains of western Libya, firing Grad rockets, which are an “an inherently indiscriminate weapon” and “forcing people to leave the area and even live in caves”.

“Grad rocket attacks are launched almost every day into residential areas with no discernible military target,” said Sarah Lea Whitson, Middle East and north Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

Under siege
Another advocacy group, Amnesty International, said the Nafusa mountain towns have been “under siege and under fire” since early March but fighting between rebels and troops loyal to the regime intensified mid-April sending thousands of people fleeing to neighbouring Tunisia.

The London-based rights watchdog said it also had documented cases of “enforced disappearances,” particularly of young men who are believed to have been snatched by Gaddafi’s forces.

On Thursday, the Libyan regime said Tripoli wanted a monitored ceasefire.

“We have asked the United Nations and the African Union to set a date and specific hours for a ceasefire, to send international observers and take the necessary measures” to end combat, Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmudi said.

But Nato insisted it would keep up its air raids in Libya until Gaddafi’s forces stop attacking civilians and until the regime’s proposed ceasefire is matched by its actions. — AFP

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