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Libya rebels close in on Kadafi stronghold

Rebel forces were closing in Sunday on a strategic town still loyal to longtime Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi amid reports that negotiations for the town’s surrender had broken down.

Abdullah Kanshil, a rebel negotiator, told reporters Sunday that talks meant to craft a nonviolent surrender of the desert town of Bani Walid had failed. He said the next step was in the hands of field commanders.

The focus in the six-month civil war has shifted to Bani Walid, a Kadafi stronghold about 90 miles southeast of Tripoli, the capital. Rebel forces captured Tripoli last month, sending Kadafi and his family on the run.

However, Libya’s rebel forces have yet to assert control over the entire nation. That fact has slowed progress in forming a new government in Tripoli and instilling confidence in a nervous and war-weary population.

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Rebel forces have been massing outside Bani Walid, in some cases reportedly as close as 10 miles from the town center.

Libya’s interim rulers have issued an ultimatum giving Kadafi strongholds — including Bani Walid and the coastal city of Surt, Kadafi’s birthplace — until Saturday to surrender or face an all-out assault.

But some rebel spokesmen have given mixed messages, declaring that an attack on Bani Walid could begin anytime.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, meantime, has been bombing targets in and around Bani Walid and Surt, along with several Kadafi strongholds in southern Libya.

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From his hiding place, Kadafi has publicly urged his followers to resist the rebel onslaught until the end. His whereabouts and those of several of his sons remained publicly unknown. His wife, daughter, two sons and several grandchildren have fled to Algeria.

Rebel official say capturing or killing Kadafi is important to convince Libyans that the longtime leader is never returning to power.

patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com


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