Libyan rebels ask NATO to keep up pressure

August 29, 2011 - 9:40 AM
Mideast Libya

A family fleeing is seen inside a car loaded with their belongings at a checkpoint 99 miles (160 kilometers) from Sirte, Libya, Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011. Mohammed al-Rajali, a spokesman, said rebel forces captured Bin Jawwad, about 350 miles (560 kilometers) east of Tripoli, late Saturday and deployed forces in the city after days of fighting. He said Gadhafi's forces fled westward, and are likely to join regime forces in Sirte, the headquarters of Gadhafi's tribe and his last major bastion of support. Sirte has been heavily targeted by NATO airstrikes. (AP Photo/Gaia Anderson)

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libyan rebel leaders asked NATO on Monday to keep up pressure on elements of Moammar Gadhafi's regime and to protect those struggling to restore electricity and water to the battle-scarred capital of Tripoli.

National Transitional Council head Mustafa Abdul-Jalil told senior NATO envoys meeting in the Gulf Arab nation of Qatar that Gadhafi, who has been in hiding since rebels captured Tripoli a week ago, can still cause trouble.

"Gadhafi is still capable is doing something awful in the last moments," Abdul-Jalil told military chiefs of staff and other key defense officials from NATO nations including France, Italy and Turkey.

"Even after the fighting ends, we still need logistical and military support from NATO," he added. NATO has been bombing Gadhafi's forces since March under a United Nations mandate to protect Libyan civilians.

Rebels appear to have secured the capital after a week of fierce fighting in which they captured Gadhafi's compound and then cleared loyalists holed up in the residential neighborhood of Abu Salim nearby.

Despite effectively ending his rule, the rebels have yet to find Gadhafi or his family members — something that has cast a pall of lingering uncertainty over the opposition's victory.

Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, about 250 miles east of Tripoli, is still a bastion of support and some have even speculated that the ousted leader himself may have fled there. Rebels have been converging from the east and west on Sirte, preparing to do battle Gadhafi loyalists. However, no fighting there has been reported yet and rebel leaders say they are trying to negotiate a peaceful surrender with local tribes to avoid further bloodshed.

Rebels say they want to take Gadhafi alive so they can try him in Libya.

"We hope that Gadhafi is still in Libya so we can rid the world of this insect," rebel military spokesman Ahmed Bani said. "The only way to treat this pest is to make him accountable for the crimes in Libya."

Bani also said rebel forces may have killed Gadhafi's son Khamis in a clash Saturday. Rebel clashed with a military convoy in the town of Tarhouna, 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli, destroying two vehicles in the convoy. The bodies in the cars were burned beyond recognition, he said, but captured soldier said they were Khamis Gadhafi's bodyguards.

Gadhafi's regime sought to break the uprising that broke out mid-February by using lethal force on protesters and locking up thousands people. Bani said nearly 50,000 people are still missing following six months of civil war. He said they have released some 10,000 prisoners from his regime lockups.

"That poses a question among Libyans: What happened to the rest of the prisoners?" he told reporters in the eastern city of Benghazi Sunday.

Teams are searching for mass graves, and the rebels National Transitional Council is encouraging all with information on the whereabouts of prisoners or their remains to come forward.

The rebel leadership, based in Benghazi throughout the war, has started to move to the capital Tripoli. France also said Monday it was dispatching a team of diplomats to reopen the French embassy there and see how France can aid the city.