Libyan rebels make gains

 

The US has accused the regime of Col Muammar Gadafy’s of placing the bodies of people killed by the state at the scenes of airstrikes to create the impression the imposition of the no-fly zone has led to significant civilian casualties.

Speaking last night, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates dismissed Col Gadafy’s assertion that large numbers of civilians had been killed.. "The truth of the matter is we have trouble coming up with proof of any civilian casualties that we have been responsible for," he said.

"We do have a lot of intelligence reporting about Gadafy taking the bodies of the people he's killed and putting them at the sites where we've attacked," Mr Gates told CBS News' "Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer".

Libyan rebels backed by allied air strikes have recaptured the strategic town of Ajdabiyah, signalling that the tide may be turning against Gadafy’s forces in the east.

In the west, France said its warplanes destroyed five Libyan aircraft and two helicopters at an air base outside rebel-held Misrata on Saturday. Pro-Gaddafi forces had earlier pounded the city with tank, mortar and artillery fire that halted only as coalition aircraft appeared overhead, rebels said.

Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim told reporters in the capital Tripoli that Gadafy was directing his forces but appeared to suggest the leader might be moving around the country so as to keep his whereabouts a mystery.

"He is leading the battle. He is leading the nation forward from anywhere in the country," said Mr Ibrahim. "He has many offices, many places around Libya. I assure you he is leading the nation at this very moment and he is in continuous communication with everyone around the country."

Asked if Gadafy was constantly on the move, Ibrahim said: "It's a time of war. In a time of war you act differently."

In Ajdabiyah, rebel fighters danced on tanks, waved flags and fired in the air near buildings riddled with bullet holes. Half a dozen wrecked tanks lay near the eastern entrance to the town and the ground was strewn with empty shell casings.

Rebels said fighting had lasted through Friday night into Saturday. By the town's western gate there were bodies of more than a dozen of Gadafy fighters. An abandoned truckload of ammunition suggested his forces had beaten a hasty retreat.

Capturing Ajdabiyah, a gateway from western Libya to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and the oil town of Tobruk, was a big morale boost for the rebels a week after coalition air strikes began to enforce a UN-mandated no-fly zone.

In Misrata, the only big insurgent stronghold left in Libya's west, cut off from the main rebel force to the east, shelling by Gaddafi's forces fell silent on Saturday when Western coalition planes appeared in the sky, rebels said.