Deadlock In Libya

In Libya, there's a stalemate on the battlefield and a deadlock in negotiations aimed at ending Moammar Gadhafi's four decades in power.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Let's head overseas, now. Yesterday, Britain recognized Libya's rebel leaders as the legitimate leaders of the country, and also expelled diplomats representing the Gadhafi regime. But that does mean fighting in Libya is nearing an end.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has the latest on the stalemate in Eastern Libya.�

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: It was supposed to be the biggest and most well-coordinated attack by the rebels yet: thousands of them, trained by Qatari and Libyan military officers, converged on the oil port town of Brega, by land and by sea, in tight unit's artillery, infantry with new weapons and even Qatari-donated Humvees. They had spent months preparing.

Two weeks later, the battle for Brega is still going on and it's turned into a quagmire. Gadhafi's forces are entrenched behind minefields and pits filled with burning oil and chemicals. So far, at least 60 rebels have died and about 700 have been injured, in a fight for a town that has been fought over many times before.

Fighter Muhammed Murtar says they weren't expecting to meet such fierce resistance.

Mr. MUHAMMED MURTAR (Soldier): (Arabic language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There are mines hidden under dead bodies, he says. In cars, in houses, on roads and in the desert there are mines, he says. They have planted anti-vehicle mines on top of anti-personnel ones, so when you move the first, the second explodes.

Mr. MURTAR: (Arabic language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says he doesn't understand why Gadhafi's forces were allowed to dig in in Brega, after months of a NATO bombing campaign there. We blame NATO and the rebel military council, he says. Gadhafi's troops fortified themselves. They were allowed to plant minefields and dig chemical ditches, and now ignite what's in those ditches, he says, and black smoke obscures everything. NATO can't see, he says, and Gadhafi's troops then shell us.

He points to his rebel pick up truck that is covered in soot.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At the hospital nearest the Brega front, a man with a shrapnel wound is being helped into an ambulance.

The city of Ajdabiya, where I am now, has gone from being a ghost town, which it was a few months ago, to being a garrison town bustling with rebel soldiers stocking up before they head to the frontlines about 50 miles away in Brega. Here at the hospital, they are running out of necessary items like blood. There's a sign on the hospital wall here, saying: Please Donate AB-Positive Blood, We're In Need.

Dr. IBRAHIM DAWAS (Manager, Ajdabiya Hospital): There is no, like, close contact, either shelling or mines - mostly.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dr. Ibrahim Dawas is the head of Ajdabiya's hospital and also a rebel commander. He says most of the injuries and deaths have resulted from the use of heavy weapons. Despite the new training the rebel forces have received, they're still making the same old mistakes.

Dr. DAWAS: They're civilians so they don't know how to, like, protect themselves. They just go in the crowd and sit beside each other. So if there is any rocket hitting in between them, you know, like it hit a lot of them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But most everyone here agrees on one point: Gadhafi will not be gotten rid of through a negotiated settlement. Most rebels are against allowing him a graceful retirement in some Libyan farm, an idea that has been floated recently.

In a press conference yesterday here, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the head of the rebel Transitional National Council, rescinded that offer which he said had been made a month ago.

Mr. MUSTAFA ABDUL JALIL (Chairman, Transitional National Council): (Arabic language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Now he says there is no such offer on the table. Instead, he says, the fighting will continue during the Holy Month of Ramadan which starts around the first of August.

In Tripoli, the rhetoric is equally belligerent. Gadhafi is refusing to step down and vowing to quash the rebellion.

Back in Ajdabiya, Dr Ibrahim predicts it will take a long time to oust Gadhafi, and it will only happen at the end of the barrel of a gun.

Dr. DAWAS: This guy, unless if you put him like in a corner and prevent him from doing anything, he will still act against the country.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro NPR News.

KELLY: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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