Libya update: rebels poised to take Brega
Following NATO bombing, rebels prepare to invade key oil town
NATO said on Saturday its missiles had hit a site in Brega, Libya used by Muammar Gaddafi's forces to stockpile military supplies and vehicles, while Gaddafi's state media said 15 civilians had been killed, according to Reuters.
Brega sits around 200 km from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. In addition to being a key military target for NATO, is an important component of Libya's oil industry, hosting an oil refinery. The town has changed hands six times in the conflict to date and looks set to do so again as rebels try to decisively dislodge pro-Gaddafi forces from the area.
The Gaddafi regime has claimed the NATO bombing cost the lives of 15 civilians, with 20 more wounded. Libyan state television said a local bakery and a restaurant had been hit. "We have no indications of any civilian casualties in connection to these strikes," a NATO official said to Reuters.
"What we know is that the buildings we hit were occupied and used by pro-Gaddafi forces to direct attacks against civilians around Ajdabiya," the official said. Ajdabiya is rebel-held.
"Unlike the pro-Gaddafi forces, we go to great lengths to reduce the possibility of any civilian casualties," the official added.
The alliance acknowledged accidentally killing civilians in a strike on Tripoli a week ago, but otherwise has said it hit only military targets.
In other news, Gaddafi is said to only have a matter of weeks to cling to power, and may be attempting to negotiate his escape from the country. Abdurrahaman Shalgam, one of the highest-ranking Libyan defectors, told the Italian Corriere della Sera newspaper that he believed Gaddafi was negotiating for asylum with either another African country or Belarus, Reuters reported.
"He is manoeuvring for three things – to leave the country, to have money and to be shielded from the International Criminal Court," said Shalgam, who still serves as Libya's ambassador to the United Nations.
Mahmoud Shammam, spokesman for the rebel National Transitional Council, has told Reuters that, while no member of the Gaddafi family can have a future role in government, "we have no objection to him retreating to a Libyan oasis under international control".
Meanwhile, there are conflicting reports of the state of East Libya's oil infrastructure, and how long it will take to restore oil refining and export capacity once the conflict is over.
An unnamed British diplomat told Reuters on Friday "we don't think the oil infrastructure has been particularly badly damaged physically .... The current estimate is that in the east they can start pumping within three or four weeks".
This estimate contradicts previous statements from the rebels themselves. Oil and finance minister Ali Tarhouni told Reuters "I don't expect us to produce oil any time soon. The refineries have no crude oil, so they are not working". Tarhouni reported that the rebels are reliant on imports of oil supplied by international oil companies on credit.
According to Platt's, the Libyan rebel National Oil Company's newly appointed chief, Nouri Burruien, has said no production can take place until the security of oil workers can be guaranteed, and it will be a year after the conflict finishes before production returns to the pre-war level of 1.6 million barrels a day.