In Libya, Rebel Forces Push West

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After taking the town of Ajdabiya, rebels have now moved in to Brega and, according to reports from there, they continue to move forward toward Ras Lanuf. In Tripoli, the government of Moammar Gadhafi called the loss of territory "a tactical retreat."


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

In Libya today, rebel forces have been pushing west after taking the town of Ajdabiya. They have now moved in to Brega and according to reports from there, they have captured two more cities - Bin Jawad and Ras Lanuf - so far without a fight.

In Tripoli, the government of Moammar Gadhafi has called the loss of territory a tactical retreat. The Libyan government is also accusing the allied coalition that is bombing the country of overstepping its authority. Here's government spokesman Moussa - Ibrahim, speaking to reporters in Tripoli yesterday.

Mr. IBRAHIM MOUSSA (Libyan Government Spokesman): To try and destroy our army and occupy our ports, to make us in a weak position when it comes to negotiation is a trick that will serve no one.

HANSEN: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro joins us on the line from the Libyan capital. Good morning, Lulu.


HANSEN: What do you know so far about how far the rebels have advanced?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, certainly the Gadhafi government here is admitting that it lost Ajdabiya in what it called a tactical retreat, as you said, and the rebels have taken the town of Brega. That's another key location. And they're pushing again towards the town of Ras Lanuf. Clearly, the rebels have been emboldened by the NATO-led airstrikes and are pushing forward to recaptured territory - territory, I may remind you, they've been fighting over for some time.

The complaint by the government here in Tripoli is, of course, that this is overreaching the U.N. mandate. It says that these airstrikes are no longer about protecting civilians but about decimating Gadhafi and his forces. Regime change essentially is what the government here is accusing the international coalition of wanting.

HANSEN: You drove in yesterday from the Tunisian border to Tripoli in the west of the country. What did you see?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, if the east is contested and there's fighting there, at least the road that comes in through Tunisia and goes through previously rebel-held towns no longer seems to be so. There are literally, Liane, dozens upon dozens of checkpoints on that road manned by young men in what look like brand new fatigues holding guns. They stop cars, they check IDs.

I saw busloads of people on several occasions who looked like they were foreign workers trying to flee on the side of the road having their belongings examined. It's very tightly secured. All the anti-Gadhafi slogans have been painted over with whitewash. You can still see the faint outlines of them under the new paint.

And there were signs everywhere of the hardship people are facing because of the sanctions. Many gas stations are closed. The ones that are open have long lines of cars and people on foot filling jerry cans. Many of the stores are also closed. It's a very eerie feeling.

And, of course, we saw anti-aircraft guns mounted on the backs of trucks, so they're mobile - some hidden in the trees, others near bridges - but all in and around population centers, towns and villages on the road in.

HANSEN: So, from what you're seen in Tripoli, where you are now, and the road in, what do you think the challenges are now for the Gadhafi regime?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, the challenges are for the Gadhafi and also the international coalition. The issue is, where do things go from here? While there may be momentum in the east and in the city of Misrata in the west, we're hearing, which seems to be at least partially in rebel hands after a bombing campaign over the past few days, the west is largely under Gadhafi's control. So, what options does Gadhafi have?

And should the international coalition carry out airstrikes and want to hit targets in the west? That's also hard. The soldiers are inside the towns that I saw, among the civilian population.

HANSEN: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Tripoli. Thank you so much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

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