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World & Nation

Fierce fighting in western and eastern Libya

Fighting broke out on two fronts Saturday in Libya, as rebels tried to gain ground against entrenched government forces in the western mountains and the eastern desert.

The two sides battled outside a small town in the Nafusa Mountains in the west, where rebels are seeking to cut a key supply route used by Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi’s forces, and near the eastern oil city of Port Brega.

Outside Port Brega, a strategic petrochemical hub, rebels have mounted yet another assault on government forces that have held the city since March 31.

The rebels have been slowed by hundreds of land mines placed by Kadafi forces along the eastern approaches to Port Brega, about 140 miles southwest of Benghazi, the de facto rebel capital. Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, vice president of the rebel National Transitional Council, said mines had also been placed in and around homes.

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Rebels had removed about 400 mines but more remained, said Col. Ahmed Bani, the chief rebel military spokesman. He said the main rebel force was about 12 miles from Port Brega, behind scouts who had moved into the town’s outskirts.

“We intend to liberate and purify Brega soon,” Bani said. Rebel leaders have made similar promises before that failed to materialize.

At least 10 rebels were reported killed in the fighting near Port Brega, which began with a rebel advance late Thursday. More than a hundred were reported wounded, many by land mines.

Human Rights Watch has accused government forces of planting land mines on both the eastern and western fronts, often in areas where civilians travel.

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In the Nafusa Mountains on Saturday, rebels and government forces exchanged fire near the village of Bir Ayad, about 65 miles southwest of Tripoli, the capital.

Rebels have been trying for weeks to fight their way to Gharyan, a city 60 miles south of Tripoli. Gharyan sits on the north-south highway that brings materiel and supplies to Tripoli from the pro-Kadafi stronghold of Sabha in the southern desert.

david.zucchino@latimes.com


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