Rebels Claim To Hold Misrata After Two Month-Siege

The western Libyan city of Misrata has emerged as a pivotal flash point between Ghadafi forces and the Libyan rebels. Marie Colvin of the London Sunday Times provides an update from the embattled city.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

There are reports of heavy shelling by forces loyal to Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi in the town of Misrata today, even though rebels say they have pushed back Gadhafi's forces. Marie Colvin is foreign affairs correspondent for the London Sunday Times. She's in Misrata and joins us now on the phone from there. Nice to talk to you again.

Ms. MARIE COLVIN (Middle East Correspondent, The Sunday Times, London): Hi there.

CONAN: Can you tell us what's happening in Misrata today?

Ms. COLVIN: Yes. There's been a dramatic change in the siege of Misrata and for the worst. I mean, we've seen over the last week rebels fighting the Libyan forces along Tripoli Street, which is the main boulevard through Misrata. And when I say rebels, I mean the rebel army is shopkeepers, engineers, car mechanics and most of them haven't seen a gun until about a month ago. They've been battling Gadhafi's forces along Tripoli Street, kind of shoving them west in very brutal, bloody battles. Those ended last night when they kicked out the last of Gadhafi's men. Their last base was a hospital that the rebels took; just pounded it and a house that they had hidden in.

So what happened today was both - I think it was revenge. We started seeing shelling from afar. So there were no longer Gadhafi forces inside Misrata. We are being shelled from afar. So there were no longer Gadhafi forces inside Misrata. We are being shelled from afar. All of the neighborhoods hit today were civilian. All of the casualties and dead were civilian. I was seeing old ladies coming in, the youngest victim, eight years old. He's in a refrigerator truck just 10 yards away from where I'm standing. They were shelling. And again, there are - we are besieged from - three sides of Misrata are besieged. And we have the sea - you know, at our backs. So there's no way for people to get out.

CONAN: And...

Ms. COLVIN: The shelling is coming from Grad missiles about 20 miles away and artillery about 12 miles away. And they're just pounding it into civilian neighborhoods.

CONAN: And, Marie Colvin, if rocket launchers and artillery pieces are outside of Misrata, they are, by definition, in open areas where, presumably, they can be seen by NATO aircraft. Any sign of NATO aircraft?

Ms. COLVIN: Absolutely none. And that is what is being asked by everyone here, I have to say, including myself. There has to be a heat signature. There has to be something you can see. These are big missiles coming in. The Grads are 12 pounds. They're punching through concrete roofs. I saw one house today, two of them went right through the roof. The little eight-year-old boy was just - the aunt was killed inside. He was killed as he ran outside trying to get into the family car. Another missile hit that car. They leave huge, I would say, three-foot by three-foot circumference holes. So you have to be able to see them.

And we don' know why NATO planes are not hitting because they come absolutely come under the definition of the U.N. Security Council 1973, protect civilians. Civilians are dying here. The only sign we've seen of a NATO strike was on the faculty of science, where Gadhafi soldiers were holed up four days ago. They left four days ago. That was hit last night. It's empty, luckily.

CONAN: We just have a minute left with you. And I want to ask you, though, how is the situation in the city? I gather you are talking to us from a hospital. How are - are medical supplies available? Are people being treated?

Ms. COLVIN: Well, I was staying in a house. I moved over to the hospital because nothing is safe here anymore. I just thought the hospital might be the safest place. Also, I can - I mean, I was (unintelligible) an ambulance last night. One of the missiles fell so close the ambulance lifted two feet off the ground. The doctors here - we had 10 killed today, 24 wounded. People are still coming - the injured are still coming in. The doctors here have enough medical supplies. They've taken them from all over the city. They need doctors. They need nurses. And when I say enough, they've got about a week's worth, they figure. But if casualties continue escalating in the way they are, they're going to run out sooner than they think. Its a really desperate situation here.

CONAN: Marie Colvin, thanks very much and take care of yourself.

Ms. COLVIN: Yes, will do. Thanks for talking.

CONAN: Marie Colvin, foreign affairs correspondent for The London Sunday Times, with us on the line from Misrata in Libya.

Tomorrow, NPR's Joe Palca will join us to talk about sleep. How much should you get, the value of naps and how working the nightshift throws a wrench into all of that. Join us for that.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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