In Misrata, Rebels Call For NATO Strikes

Most of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces have pulled out of the western port city of Misrata, but rockets continue to hammer the city and rebel leaders now suggest the decision to leave Misrata might be a trick. They have called on NATO to increase its airstrikes against Gadhafi's weaponry.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Guy Raz is away. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

In Libya, most of the forces of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi have pulled out of the western port city of Misrata, but rockets continue to hammer the city, leaving its future in doubt. Leaders of the rebel forces speaking from Benghazi to the east suggest that the decision to leave Misrata might be a trick and called on NATO to increase its airstrikes against Gadhafi's weaponry.

NPR's Peter Kenyon has been traveling in Libya today from the rebel headquarters in Benghazi to Ajdabiya, south near the coast. He joins us now. He's back in Benghazi.

Welcome.

PETER KENYON: Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: What did you find in Ajdabiya? It's been in rebel hands for some time, right?

KENYON: It has. It has gone back and forth. Earlier today, though, it was quiet and completely in rebel control. Most of the civilian population of Ajdabiya has fled. There are still a few families in the city, in addition to the fighters.

We spoke with one, a very large family, who was just about getting by, although the children were traumatized by the rocket fire and shooting at night. Food supplies were insufficient.

The father of this family was feeling a bit forgotten. He said no one from the rebel leadership had come to Adjabiya to check on families there. So they're feeling a bit lonely and forgotten themselves, but they're surviving.

WERTHEIMER: And what about the Gadhafi forces withdrawing from Misrata? The city had been under siege for weeks. The situation looked like a standoff just a few days ago.

KENYON: Yes. Events had been a bit fluid, but the bottom line is it's still very much a standoff. The rebel fighters have retaken some buildings where snipers were picking off civilians and fighters alike.

But rockets and shells are still raining down on the city. We're hearing today from doctors that they're still working under extremely difficult conditions. As of this morning, there was still said to be one area containing pro-government forces inside the city, but for the most part, the army has pulled back to the outskirts, where it's heavier weaponry and artillery (unintelligible).

WERTHEIMER: Peter, if the rebel forces were really in control of Misrata, as well as the border town of (unintelligible), where they've also been fighting, would they be in a position to advance on Tripoli, which is the capital and is right between those two towns?

KENYON: On paper, that does look like a pretty substantial gain for the rebels. In fact, however, they would be very hard-pressed to advance from that direction. And they're fighting a running battle with the pro-Gadhafi forces in the dense and difficult western mountain areas that leads to the border.

So that situation is very much in flux. It would be hard to say definitively right now that either side has a big advantage. The Gadhafi regime still has money. It can still access weapons. It is still getting fighters in from neighboring countries, and the rebels are very worried about that.

On the other hand, the rebels are continuing to hold their own and not losing any ground.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Peter Kenyon, speaking with us from Benghazi in Libya.

Peter, thank you.

KENYON: You're welcome, Linda.

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