Libya rebels push west towards Gaddafi stronghold

AFP, Friday 4 Mar 2011

Libyan rebel fighters pushed further west, driving in haphazard armed convoys as they sought to advance their struggle against loyalists of Moamer Gaddafi

Dozens of armed opposition forces could be seen heading along the main coastal road out of Uqayla, a desert hamlet about 280 kilometres (175 miles) from the main rebel headquarters in Benghazi, Libya's second city.

An AFP reporter 20 kilometres west of Uqayla saw 60 to 70 well-armed rebels speeding along the highway after praying on the roadside, shouting that they were going to Raslanuf, where pro-Kadhafi forces are entrenched on high ground.

"The plan is to edge slowly, slowly towards them to pressure them to back off. We don't want to fight, we want to pressure them psychologically," renegade Colonel Bashir Abdulkadir told AFP.
"But if we have to kill them to win this battle, we will," he said.

The rebel commander acknowledged his fighters were not organised. "We are a popular revolt," he said by way of explanation. Asked how he could hope to win without being organised, he replied: "God will give us victory".

A doctor who led about 30 rebels in prayer on Friday, the Muslim day of rest, said in his sermon: "We must be organised. You're very disorganised, like in prayer when we stand row by row".

"We didn't come here for killing. We came here to say no to tyranny. God have mercy on us. God give us victory," he said to chants of "Amen, Amen".

One fighter who raised his palms in supplication during the prayers was seen to be gripping a hand grenade.

Further east, Captain Shoaib al-Akaki, another defector from the military, expressed concern about internecine fighting.

"We're trying to minimise losses on both sides. You know in Libya, we're all relatives. We're a country of tribes. We all have relatives in Sirte," he said, referring to the coastal town between Benghazi and Tripoli where Kadhafi was born.

He claimed that about 20 cars and trucks filled with relief supplies had been sent back from Uqayla east to Brega, where rebels were killed and wounded in a counter offensive by Kadhafi's forces on Wednesday.

A patchwork coalition of rebels controls eastern Libya and some towns in the west following a revolt that started on February 15, but Kadhafi retains his grip on the capital Tripoli.

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