Libya Cracks Down on Use of Satellite Phones

Posted August 12th, 2011 at 4:00 pm (UTC-5)
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The government of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is threatening to execute citizens caught using satellite phones without official authorization.

State-run media reports say the crackdown is intended to keep citizens from using the phones to aid NATO. The alliance has been targeting government positions in a bombing campaign over Libya.

The JANA news agency quotes officials who say unauthorized use of the phones amounts to treason. The report says “spies” have been using satellite phones to pass information to NATO, which it says has carried out bombings that have killed “a large number of innocent civilians.”

On Tuesday, the government accused NATO of killing 85 people in a village near the western town of Zlitan. NATO said its warplanes hit targets in the Zlitan area on Monday, but denied evidence of civilian casualties.

Many Libyans have been relying on satellite phones because of the limited availability of mobile phone service in some regions of the country.

In a separate development Friday, opposition fighters reported gains on two fronts.

They say they have advanced farther into Brega, a strategic oil port that has changed hands several times since the start of the anti-government uprising in February.

But opposition fighters say at least 11 rebel fighters have been killed in the port, over the past two days, in clashes with forces loyal to Mr. Gadhafi. Mourners turned out in rebel-held Benghazi on Friday for a mass funeral for some of those killed.

Also, rebels say they have strengthened their hold in towns near Zawiya, a city about 50 kilometers west of Tripoli.

On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern over the rising number of civilian casualties in the Libyan conflict.

In a statement, he called on all sides to “exercise extreme caution in their actions, in order to minimize any further loss of civilian life.” Ban also said that “a cease-fire linked to a political process” is the only possible way to achieve peace in Libya.

NATO began launching air strikes against Libya in March, supporting the rebels who have been fighting against Mr. Gadhafi's 42-year rule.