Nato admits Libya bombing error


The Nato military alliance has endangered its credibility with a bomb that destroyed a house in the Libyan capital, killing several residents, Italy's foreign minister said today.

It was the first time Nato had acknowledged causing multiple civilian casualties in Libya and came as the alliance feels the strain of a campaign taking more time and resources than expected.

Nato said the intended target was a missile site. The head of its Libya operations said he regretted the loss of life and that a system failure may have knocked the weapon off course.

Libyan officials accused Nato of deliberately targeting the population and blamed the alliance for further civilian deaths in the southern town of Sebha and in Surman west of Tripoli.

"Nato is endangering its credibility; we cannot risk killing civilians," Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini told reporters before an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg to discuss ways to aid rebels trying to oust Muammar Gadafy.

Mr Frattini expressed concern that Nato was losing the propaganda war to Col Gadafy and that Western media reports did not emphasise enough the good work done by the alliance every day to protect Libyan civilians.

"We cannot continue our shortcomings in the way we communicate with the public, which doesn't keep up with the daily propaganda of Gadafy," he said.

Libyan official news agency Jana said air strikes killed four civil defence staff and wounded 10 others yesterday when they rushed to provide first aid for people at civilian sites hit by the coalition in Sebha.

Government officials took reporters to Surman, 70km west of Tripoli, to the site of what they said was a Nato strike targeting the home of Khouildi Hamidi, a member of the 12-member Revolutionary Command Council that Gadafy set up after seizing control of Libya in 1969.

The government said 15 civilians were killed, including three children. Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim called the attack a "cowardly terrorist act which cannot be justified."

Nato has been pounding targets in Libya since March 19th in what it says is an operation to protect civilians in a rebellion against Gadafy's 41-year rule. The Libyan leader says it is an act of colonial aggression designed to steal Libya's oil.

Strains are appearing within Nato member states as the campaign drags on for longer than its backers expected and Col Gadafy remains in power - even making a show of defiance last week by playing chess with a visiting official.

Reporters taken to the residential area in Tripoli's Souq al-Juma district by Libyan officials early yesterday saw several bodies being pulled out of the rubble of a destroyed building.

Later, in a hospital, they were shown the bodies of two children and three adults who, officials said, were among nine civilians killed in the strike.

Libyan foreign minister Abdelati Obeidi said the Nato strike was a "pathetic attempt .... to break the spirit of the people of Tripoli and allow small numbers of terrorists to cause instability and disorder in the peaceful city."

"We will never forgive, we will never forget, we are here; on our land, united with our leader, ready for peace and ready for the fight for our freedom and honour," he told a news conference.

But a spokesman for the rebels fighting to end Muammar Gadafy's 41-year rule said the Libyan leader was to blame.

"We are sorry for the loss of civilian life that was caused by air strikes carried out by Nato," said Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice chairman of the rebel National Transitional Council. "We hold the Gadafy regime responsible for having placed its military (installations) near civilian areas," he said. "So these losses are to be expected."