We will fight until we win, declares Gaddafi
A defiant Muammar Gaddafi vowed to fight until victory in a message broadcast by a Syrian station, as his forces launched surprise fightbacks on three fronts on Monday, Libya’s interim government won recognition from China, and the United States sent an advance team of four troops to help its officials reopen the US embassy in Tripoli.
The Pentagon said four troops were heading to Tripoli to help reopen the US embassy.
Officials said the move did not represent a policy shift by President Barack Obama, who has insisted there would be no US boots on the ground in Libya.
The ferocious counterattacks on a Ras Lanuf oil refinery, near Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, and at Bani Walid near Tripoli came as one of the elusive former leader’s sons, Saadi, fled to Niger.
“It is not possible to give Libya to the colonists again ... all that remains for us is the struggle until victory and the defeat of the coup,” Gaddafi said in a statement read out on Syria-based Arrai Oruba television.
Nato vowed on Monday that there would be no let-up in its bombing campaign against Gaddafi’s remaining strongholds, which also include the southern oases of Waddan and Sabha, as long as they pose a threat.
China, which opposed the Nato air strikes when they were launched in late March, became the latest country to recognise the National Transitional Council (NTC) as Libya’s government, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
But forces loyal to the fugitive Gaddafi sprung a surprise deep behind enemy lines on Monday, killing at least 12 NTC soldiers in a raid on the refinery near Ras Lanuf on the central coast.
“So far, we have a figure of 12 dead in the ranks of the revolutionaries” guarding the key plant, said military spokesperson Mohammed Zawawi.
“A group (of loyalists) travelling in five vehicles tried to enter the refinery but were unable to,” he said.
The oil infrastructure along the Mediterranean coast between Sidra and Brega was a key battleground of the seven-month uprising against Gaddafi, and the front line between the mainly rebel-held east and mainly government-held west went back and forth several times.
But since Tripoli’s fall, NTC forces have advanced dozens of kilometres west towards Sirte, which remains in Gaddafi’s hands, and have moved to secure the vital oil infrastructure on which its post-war reconstruction plans depend.
Southeast of Tripoli, civilians poured out of the desert town of Bani Walid after intense fighting on Sunday between Gaddafi loyalists holed up in the sprawling oasis and encircling new regime troops.
Many more residents remained trapped inside the town, 180km from the capital, for want of fuel for their vehicles, those fleeing said.
‘Scared to death
“Families are scared to death by this war,” said Mohammed Suleiman as he passed through a checkpoint with 10 relatives crammed into the back of his white BMW.
Ezzedine Ramadan said the ferocity of Sunday’s exchanges had prompted him to leave.
“Gaddafi’s men were firing indiscriminately from the hills and rebels responded,” he said, adding: “We are expecting another attack today, so we left.”
Riba Ahmed, a surgeon at a field clinic outside Bani Walid, said at least 10 people had been killed and 20 wounded on Sunday.
West of Sirte, an NTC field commander said his forces had met fierce resistance as they advanced towards the city on Sunday.
“We advanced yesterday to a place called Checkpoint 50 [50 kilometres from Sirte]”, said field commander Umran al-Awaib.
“There was strong resistance—we came under fire from a lot of Grads (rockets).”
Inner circle out of Libya, into Niger
The unexpected counteroffensive by Gaddafi loyalists came despite the flight to neighbouring Niger of 32 members of Gaddafi’s inner circle during the past 10 days, Niger’s Prime Minister Brigi Rafini said on Monday.
“A total of 32 people are now here, including one of [Gaddafi’s] sons, Saadi, as well as three generals,” Rafini said during a meeting with foreign diplomats in Niamey.
The arrivals had crossed the border in four separate groups since September 2 and had been taken in by Niger for “humanitarian reasons”, he said.
The most recent arrivals included Saadi, the third of Gaddafi’s seven sons and known as a playboy, and eight of the fallen despot’s other close associates, Rafini added in comments carried by public radio.
Muammar Gaddafi, his most prominent son Seif al-Islam and his intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi are all wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity.
But Rafini said “as far as we are aware, none of the 32 in Niger is being sought on an arrest warrant or being pursued by international justice”.
China recognises NTC
On the diplomatic front, China on Monday formally recognised the NTC as Libya’s government after weeks of holding back.
“China respects the choice of the Libyan people and attaches great importance to the status and role of the NTC, and has kept in close contact with it,” the state-run Xinhua news agency quoted foreign ministry spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu as saying.
In its latest update on Monday, Nato said warplanes under its command had hit 13 targets in and around Sirte, four around Waddan and one near Sabha.
Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the strikes would go on until the threat to civilians had been eliminated.
“We have seen also during this weekend that remnants of Gaddafi’s regime still constitute a threat to the civilian population,” Rasmussen told reporters in London.
“So as long as this threat exists, we will continue,” he added.—AFP