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Gadhafi’s Forces, Rebels Battle for Control of Misrata

April 18, 2011 at 6:03 PM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: Next, two reports on the fighting in Misrata, Libya, the first from Jonathan Miller of Independent Television News, reporting from Tripoli.

JONATHAN MILLER: In a city of snipers, cluster bombs and chaos, the rabble of the rebel army, disorganized, untrained insurgents, fends off Gadhafi’s firepower, the seven-week medieval siege emerging as a tragic symbol of the deadlocked Libyan civil war, humanitarian crisis exposing NATO’s inability to stop the killing, turn the tide of war or force regime change.

Airstrikes can’t protect the panicked, cornered residents of Misrata.

MAN: One month, maybe 10 — 10 times.

JONATHAN MILLER: Saleh Padi, a former Libyan fighter pilot says that in a month, he’s called in the coordinates of this position at least 10 times. The NATO bombers haven’t come, he says.

Rebels claim they have no choice but to stand and fight.

MAN: Now I am stay in my town. I am defense in my town — my town. I’m not going outside Misrata. But when someone is coming to your town to try to tell you what to do…

JONATHAN MILLER: An investigator from Amnesty International told me from Misrata she had witnessed rockets fired by Gadhafi’s forces raining down on residential areas. She had seen dozens of cluster bombs, she said. Misrata’s hospital administrator says 1,000 people may have been killed, 3,000 wounded, 260 bodies in the morgue since Friday.

In Tripoli, the government forcefully denying what it brands outrageous allegations.

MUSSA IBRAHIM, Libyan government spokesman: The army would not follow orders to kill civilians, because this is the army of the nation, not the army of one person.

JONATHAN MILLER: Two senior United Nations representatives met the Libyan prime minister and foreign minister yesterday here in the capital, Tripoli. And they secured agreement to establish a humanitarian presence here.

The U.N.’s head of humanitarian affairs flew to rebel-held Benghazi via Malta, with Misrata on her mind, but from the Libyan government, no promise of unfettered access from Tripoli by road.

VALERIE AMOS, U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs: And I pushed very hard for a cessation of hostilities to enable us to do that and got no guarantees from the government in relation to that.

JONATHAN MILLER: At Misrata Port, desperation, as thousands clamored to escape Gadhafi’s blitzkrieg — the priority: evacuating foreign migrant workers. But frantic Libyans want out, too, some even blocking roads to stop the migrants getting to the port. The British government is now taking a lead in pledging to fund further evacuations.

For many tens of thousands, though, there’s no way out. And with the U.N. mandate to protect civilians stretched to the max, there’s little for them to hope for either.