Gadhafi Forces Pound Libyan Rebels In Misrata

The Libyan port city of Misrata is being heavily hit by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. There are reports of many killed in the fighting as hundreds of people wait to be evacuated by sea. James Hider, of the Times of London, talks to Renee Montagne about the fighting.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

No city in Libya has felt the fury of Moammar Gadhafi's forces more than Misrata. It lies along the sea between the capital, Tripoli, and Gadhafi's home town of Surt. And this rebel-held city is now under siege.

Misrata is being heavily bombarded. There are reports of many deaths and injuries as its residents wait to be evacuated.

James Hider of the Times of London managed to get in last night on board a ship of the International Office for Migration. We reached him in Misrata.

Good morning.

Mr. JAMES HIDER (Times of London): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: What is happening in the city right now?

Mr. HIDER: Well, right now there's a heavy barrage of artillery and rocket fire coming from Colonel Gadhafi's forces towards the front line, which is towards the southern part of the city center. For the last few hours there have been every few minutes very loud explosions, which we believe are grad(ph) rockets and heavy artillery mortar rounds, the rebels tell us.

But for the past few days there have been barrages of between 50 to 80 rockets a day, especially on the port area, which is the last point of entry or exit for the city, because on the land side it's completely surrounded. So people can only get supplies in - food, medicine, and even weapons - from the port.

MONTAGNE: And we're hearing reports of many civilian deaths, children and old people, because these barrages are in a sense random.

Mr. HIDER: Yes. The rockets are unguided. They land pretty much anywhere. But I think even more disturbing than that, I was at the Hikma hospital, and most of the casualties there were people who had actually been shot in the head or neck by snipers. And this wasn't random shooting, it was fairly well targeted. They've got massive traumatic injuries.

They don't have the facilities here to actually heal them. They can keep them alive for a short time, but they can't evacuate them either. There are very few ships that come in, basically cruise ferries commissioned by the International Office of Migration by the Qatari government, and they're taking refugees out.

If you've got moderate injuries - say, a broken leg - they can bandage you up and take you out, but these people with massive trauma, they can't move them. So they said that all those people are probably going to die.

MONTAGNE: Is there any escape route from Misrata other than the sea?

Mr. HIDER: No. No. And the sea is a fairly uncertain escape route itself. We came in with the IOM, the International Office for Migration, which is an inter-governmental agency. They are doing one trip at a time with one ship that has about a thousand capacity. So yesterday when we came in, there were thousands of refugees trying to get out. Most of them were North Africans, Egyptians, foreign migrant workers who have been trapped here. Their way was actually blocked by Libyans trying to get out, who were saying that we have the right to get out as well. So it's a very desperate situation.

MONTAGNE: May I ask just briefly - what happens if Misrata falls to the Gadhafi forces?

Mr. HIDER: People we've spoken to have said there will be a massacre. A doctor last night we spoke to at the hospital, he said in a city of about half a million, they could kill up to 100,000 people. Because first of all, they're not going to go down without a fight. They've got nowhere to go, and we've seen in other places that Gadhafi does take fairly terrible revenge.

People don't hold out any hope that if they surrender, then that will be treated as prisoners of war.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us.

Mr. HIDER: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: We've been talking to James Hider of the Times of London, who is in Misrata, Libya.

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