Libyan army to withdraw from Misurata

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Tripoli, April 23: Pro-Gaddafi troops will withdraw from the besieged rebel-held city of Misurata and leave it to local tribes to resolve the conflict either through "force or negotiations", the Libyan government has said, as NATO carried out more air strikes on Tripoli killing three people.

"The situation in Misurata will be dealt with by the tribes around Misurata and Misurata's residents and not by the Libyan army," Khaled Kaim, Libya's deputy foreign minister, told reporters late last night.

"We will leave the tribes around Misurata and Misurata's people to deal with the situation, either using force or negotiations," he said.

Kaim said the Libyan army had been given an "ultimatum" to stop the rebellion in the western port city, 200 km east of the capital Tripoli.

"There was an ultimatum to the Libyan army: if they cannot solve the problem in Misurata, then the people from (the neighbouring towns of) Zliten, Tarhuna, Bani Walid and Tawargha will move in and they will talk to the rebels. If they don't surrender, then they will engage them in a fight," he was quoted as saying by Al-Jazeera.

Hours after the announcement of a shift in tactics in Misurata by forces of Muammar Gaddafi, NATO bombs struck what appeared to be a bunker near his compound in central Tripoli.

Government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said three people were killed by the "very powerful explosion" in a car park near Gaddafi''s Bab al-Aziziyah compound.

The popular revolt against 68-year-old Gaddafi - inspired by similar uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia - began in February and a UN mandate later sanctioned air strikes against Libyan forces to protect civilians. NATO took control of the operations on March 31.

Powerful US Senator John McCain, who visited the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya, sought international recognition for the Libyan opposition, saying "these brave fighters" needed "every appropriate" means of assistance to increase pressure on Gaddafi and his loyalists.

"I would encourage every nation, especially the United States, to recognise the Transitional National Council as the legitimate voice of the Libyan people. They've earned this right, and Gaddafi has forfeited it by waging war on his own people," McCain told a news conference in Benghazi. 

The visiting US Senator said the governments that have frozen assets of the Gaddafi regime should release some of that money to the Council so that they can sustain, improve, and expand their capacity to govern justly.

"We need to urgently step up the NATO air campaign to protect Libyan civilians, especially in Misurata. We desperately need more close air-support and precision strike assets such as A-10s and AC-130s," he said, applauding US Defence Secretary Robert Gates's decision to use Predator drones.

McCain also denied concerns about the possibility of extremist or al-Qaeda elements fighting alongside the pro-democracy forces, telling Al-Jazeera "they (rebels) are my heroes".

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US military's joint chiefs of staff, offered a similar assessment. "We''re watchful of it, mindful of it and I just haven't seen much of it at all. In fact, I've seen no al-Qaeda representation there at all," he said during a visit to the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

McCain is the first from the US to visit Benghazi since the conflict broke out in late February and made the trip to Libya on his own.

One of his aides said he met rebel leaders, including their finance chief Ali Tarhouni and armed forces head Abdel Fattah Younes.

The US Senator's arrival came close on the heels of President Barack Obama approving the use of armed drones in Libya against ground forces for the first time since America handed over the military operation to NATO.

The Predators carried out a number of strikes in Misurata as well as on suspected missile sites in capital Tripoli giving tactical advantage to the opposition, who drove out dozens of snipers on tall buildings within hours of street fighting, NATO officials said.

PTI

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