TOPICS > World

Libyan Rebels Hold Oil Port of Ras Lanuf, But for How Long?

March 7, 2011 at 1:30 PM EDT
Pro-Gadhafi and opposition forces continued to clash Monday in Libya. An air strike against opposition fighters attempted to push back rebels as they advanced toward Tripoli. Bill Neeley and Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News report.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Libyan warplanes carried out repeated airstrikes today, and fears of a rising humanitarian crisis grew.

We have two reports from Independent Television News, starting with Bill Neely in Misrata, a western town surrounded by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

BILL NEELY: Colonel Gadhafi’s got a grip on western Libya, but not here. In the town of Misrata, rebels fight street battles with his men. It’s urban, intense and deadly. The rebels say dozens of have been killed, this one of Gadhafi’s tanks. His men fought their way in, but were beaten back, the rebels celebrating, but they haven’t won yet.

Gadhafi still sits confidently in power, here denouncing European interference in his country. “We should be partners,” he says, “in the fight against al-Qaida. They’re behind the violence here. They’re terrorists fighting my men.”

Not far from his capital, his men are bombarding the town of Zawiyah for a fourth straight day using artillery and tanks in the most violent assaults so far. The protesters he’s targeting are well-armed with tanks they have captured.

I asked them, are you from al-Qaida, as Gadhafi says?

MAN: Well, I believe the English people, they don’t believe there is al-Qaida here. Al-Qaida is in Afghanistan.

BILL NEELY: There have been dozens of civilian casualties in Zawiyah, doctors accusing Gadhafi of war crimes.

MAN: This is the result of a massacre by the — by the Gadhafi regime.

MAN: They start shooting at me.

BILL NEELY: Doctors say they have been fired on by Gadhafi’s men, with two medical assistants killed.

MAN: He’s attacking us with bomb, with tanks now. Why? Why? What did we do?

BILL NEELY: A drive through Zawiyah shows how intensely Gadhafi’s forces are attacking, how desperate he is to end the resistance here.

He says, at most, 100 people have been killed in the revolution so far, half of them his men. The opposition say, in Zawiyah and Misrata alone, more have been killed.

GWEN IFILL: And to the battles in the oil port of Ras Lanuf in the east. That’s where opposition fighters regrouped one day after they were driven back by a heavy government counteroffensive.

The reporter is Lindsey Hilsum.

 

LINDSEY HILSUM: They think they have spotted one of Gadhafi’s fighter jets. The bomb falls a few hundred meters away, in the desert. Colonel Gadhafi’s troops are over the horizon. For two days, they have been fighting further west in the town of Bin Jawad, and the rebels have been pushed back.

MAN: They start to shoot us, to shoot us from everywhere.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The rebels say that Colonel Gadhafi’s forces are bombing here at Ras Lanuf every few hours. That’s why they’re always ready with their anti-aircraft guns. Some of them say they want to push up the road now, get to his hometown of Surt as quickly as they can. But others say, no, better to consolidate and wait until they have better weapons and more forces.

Today, we saw just how inexperienced many of the fighters are. This 21-year-old told me it was the first time he had ever held a weapon. Some are highly educated and idealistic.

Why have you come here to fight?

MAN: I’m not better than my brothers who are dying here trying to serve my country. And, believe me, it’s not what the country can do for you, but what can you do for your country.

LINDSEY HILSUM: But the casualties are mounting up, young men who want to fight, but don’t know how, armed with Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades against tanks and fighter bombers.

The hospital at Ras Lanuf is struggling to cope, the doctors working round the clock. Today, families who work in the oil installation were leaving.

Are you worried about Gadhafi’s forces coming?

MAN: Yes, yes, pretty bad, all too much…

MAN: OK.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Bye.

The rebels still hold Ras Lanuf, but for how long?

JUDY WOODRUFF: With the threat of a civil war mounting, there was renewed pressure today for the international community to stanch the bloodshed.

British and French officials began drafting a U.N. Security Council resolution that would establish a no-fly zone over Libya and task international air forces with preventing Libyan jets from attacking rebels. It’s a step that some of the rebel forces there have requested. And, today, foreign ministers from Persian Gulf nations said a no-fly zone should be imposed.

But the Obama administration and its military advisers have so far resisted that request and entreaties from members of Congress for intervention.

Nevertheless, earlier today, the president said there were ongoing talks over an armed response.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We’ve got NATO as we speak consulting in Brussels around a wide range of potential options, including potential military options, in response to the violence that continues to take place inside of Libya.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has warned against a third U.S. intervention in a Muslim nation, has publicly said imposing a no-fly zone amounts to an act of war.

Gates was asked today during an unannounced visit to Afghanistan about the potential for a military response in Libya.

ROBERT GATES, U.S. Secretary of Defense: I think we will have to monitor the situation very closely. We will do whatever the president directs us to do. But I think, at this point, there is a sense that — that any action should be the result of an international sanction before anything is done.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, however, said today his nation would oppose any military intervention. He told a state news agency, “The Libyans have to solve their problems by themselves.”

President Obama announced a $15 million increase in humanitarian assistance today to augment the international effort already under way.