Libyan Rebels Retake Western Mountain Town

Posted June 6th, 2011 at 4:50 pm (UTC-5)
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Libyan rebels say they have seized the western mountain town of Yafran from forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi after NATO airstrikes last week destroyed key government military targets, enabling opposition forces to advance.

Ethnic Berber fighters, who have joined the anti-government rebellion, retook Yafran, about 100 kilometers southwest of Tripoli, on Monday. Pro-Gadhafi forces had attacked the western mountain region after local Berbers rose up against government troops at the beginning of the uprising.

Media reports say government forces have left the town and that rebel flags could be seen along with defaced images of Mr. Gadhafi. Last Thursday, British warplanes destroyed two government tanks and two armored personnel carriers in Yafran.

Meanwhile, NATO planes kept up pressure on the Libyan leader, targeting sites around Tripoli on Monday.

In the rebel-held east, Libyan forces fired rockets into the front-line town of Ajdabiya. The Associated Press reported that after the strike, opposition fighters pursued government forces west to Brega, where two rebels were killed by loyalist shelling.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he would use the occasion of a defense ministers meeting Wednesday to repeat calls for the alliance to step up involvement in the Libya operation.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters in London Sunday that the campaign against pro-Gadhafi forces is intensifying. But he rejected suggestions that it has strayed from the U.N. mandate to protect civilians.

Hague defended the use of British and French attack helicopters, which were employed for the first time on Saturday. But Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov warned that use of the helicopters puts NATO “one step” closer to a ground operation.

Russia abstained when the U.N. Security Council voted in March to establish a no-fly zone over Libya. It has repeatedly called for a negotiated solution to the conflict.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent a special envoy to Benghazi, where he plans to meet Tuesday with members of the rebel Transitional National Council.