Rebels Try To Wrest Control Of Zawiya From Gadhafi Troops

David Greene talks to NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro on the latest on the fighting in western Libya. Rebels are trying to seize the oil refinery in Zawiya from Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, host:

And I'm David Greene.

In Libya, opposition forces are making what they say is their final push to overthrow Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Their ultimate objective is the capital Tripoli. Right now the fighting is located nearby in the coastal city of Zawiya. In the past few weeks, rebels have made rapid advances, charging down from the western mountains and putting Gadhafi's forces on the defensive.�

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro was in Zawiya yesterday. She joins us from Zintan in the western mountains now.

Good morning.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Good morning.�

GREENE: Lulu, can you take us through where we stand now in the battlefield of Libya?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, where we are, David, is in the middle of a messy, bloody, hardscrabble fight that the rebels say is in its final stages. But having been in Zawiya yesterday, I can tell you that it's not over yet there. But the dynamic has shifted, David, completely.

Last time I was in the western mountains we'd talk about how the rebels were encircled here and could be cut off. Now it's Gadhafi's forces who don't seem to be able to mount any effective counterattacks. They're holding ground in places like Brega in the east, where the rebels still haven't managed to dislodge them. Or they are losing ground in battles in the west, in Misrata, on the coast.

But what they aren't doing is gaining territory anymore. And that's an important distinction. It shows that barring some massive game-changer the fight is going in one direction and one direction only, and that's in the rebel's way.

GREENE: And if the fight does reach Tripoli, I mean, do you have any sense of what the situation is in the capital at this point? I mean, we've heard for so long that there are, you know, there is an opposition to Gadhafi. It's sort of been underground, hasn't been able to rise up yet. But what are you hearing at this point?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, there are two things we have to take under consideration about Tripoli. First of all, of course, it's Gadhafi's stronghold. He's been reinforcing it for quite some time. And the people there, who were against him, have gone underground.

However, what we have seen from places like Zawiya, is that they didn't go away. They've been biding their time. You know, Zawiya was a place that also rose up against Gadhafi and was brutally crushed. And now that that fight has been taken there people are joining the rebels. And that is what the rebels are expecting. They're expecting that if they get to Tripoli there will be an opposition that is waiting for them there, that will help them overthrow that city.

Then there's the other thing, which is the civilian population. What we know is that very few, if any, supplies are getting into Tripoli. The city is being strangled. The main road to Tunisia, which had been used to supply the capital, was effectively cut off.

Smugglers are still getting things in. there's a very effective gas smuggling operation from Tunisia, for example. But it's not enough. And there have been massive electricity cuts in the capital as well.

So the situation is deteriorating. And that, of course, is going to play into the hands of the rebels.

GREENE: And, of course, one of the great unanswered questions of this battle for Libya, do we have any idea where Gadhafi is at this point?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: No. you know, there's been a lot of speculation. Some people have said he's on the border with Algeria in a small town there. Others say he's still in the capital. Others say he might have gone back to his hometown of Sert.

The last that we heard of him was an audio tape that was purportedly released by him four days ago. But since then we really haven't heard anything from Gadhafi. And we don't know where he is. It's very unclear, at the moment, how much control Gadhafi actually has.

GREENE: And briefly, you've done a lot of reporting, Lulu, on the state of disarray sometimes within the rebels. What's you're read at this point? I mean, were they to take Tripoli and topple the government at some point in the coming days or weeks, are they in a position to run a country?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is the million dollar question. And probably a lot more money, since so many people have been giving money to the National Transitional Council in Benghazi.

I think - having just been in Benghazi, I think there's a great deal of disarray there after the killing of Abdul Fatah Younis, the army chief of staff. That really, I think, put a wrench in the works. There's a lot of infighting among the members of the NTC. And I think there's concerns, certainly among the diplomatic community, that they simply don't have the chops to run this country.

Right now, though, that seems somehow a lot closer and a more pressing question than it was before, simply because of the military advances the rebels have made. They did release a 14-page constitutional declaration outlining what their plans were for after the transition. But it still remains to be seen if they really can bring this country together after such a brutal and divisive civil war.

GREENE: That's NPR's Lourdes Garcia Navarro, who is in the western mountains of Libya.�

Thanks for joining us.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

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