Libyan Fighters Surround Gadhafi Stronghold

Posted September 5th, 2011 at 11:30 am (UTC-5)
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Reinforcements for Libyan provisional authority fighters headed Monday toward one of the last remaining strongholds of ousted leader Moammar Gadhafi.

There are reports that negotiations aimed at persuading Gadhafi loyalists to peacefully surrender the desert town of Bani Walid have broken down. But there is confusion about what lies ahead: local commanders speak of deadlines both short and long, some passing without notice.

Thousands of provisional authority fighters wait outside Bani Walid, about 170 kilometers southeast of the capital, Tripoli, as representatives for pro- and anti-Gadhafi forces try to conduct on and off discussions to end the standoff.

For days, Western media have reported that Mr. Gadhafi and key advisers could be in or around the town.

Meanwhile, officials in Niger, Libya's southern neighbor, say the head of Mr. Gadhafi's security brigades has crossed into the country. They say Mansour Dhao was traveling with several other Libyans whose identities were not released.

A source told the French news agency the group of Libyans did not include any of Mr. Gadhafi's sons or other close relatives.

A negotiator for the National Transitional Council said talks failed Sunday when pro-Gadhafi tribal elders rejected an offer to have medical supplies brought into Bani Walid on the condition that provisional authority fighters enter the town. He said they insisted that anti-Gadhafi fighters enter the town without their weapons.

Bani Walid is dominated by Libya's largest tribe, the Warfalla, which helped anchor Mr. Gadhafi's nearly 42-year rule. However, many of the anti-Gadhafi fighters encircling the town are also Warfalla members.

The NTC has extended a deadline for all opponents to lay down their weapons until next Saturday. NTC officials hope they can avoid laying siege to civilian areas. But some fighters surrounding Bani Walid say they have heard conflicting reports that an attack might come sooner.

NATO on Monday said it bombed several targets overnight near Sirte, another Gadhafi stronghold that has not fallen to provisional authority fighters. NATO has carried out airstrikes against pro-Gadhafi forces since March under a U.N. mandate to protect civilians.