Libyan Rebels Retake Western Mountain Town

Posted June 7th, 2011 at 3:20 am (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.

Diplomatic efforts are continuing Tuesday, as a special envoy sent by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is set to meet with members of the rebel Transitional National Council in the eastern city of Benghazi.

China's foreign ministry says one of its diplomats based in Egypt also recently held talks with the rebel group. The ministry said in a statement Tuesday that Libya's foreign minister is making a three-day visit to Beijing, but did not offer any details about the trip.

China and Russia both abstained when the U.N. Security Council voted in March to establish a no-fly zone over Libya, and have called for a negotiated solution to the conflict.

Meanwhile, NATO planes have kept up pressure on the Mr. Gadhafi, 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.