13 Oct 2011

End of war in sight, says Libya’s new government

As the NTC claims that the conflict in Libya is drawing to a conclusion, Channel 4 News understands that fighting continues in major cities previously said to have been captured.

Government forces are believed to be on the verge of capturing the last remaining major stronghold Muammar Gaddafi‘s loyalists.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox said the fall of Sirte – Gaddafi’s home town – was “very close” and may bring the fighting to an end more than six months after British forces began air strikes to protect civilians.

While the Libyan capital Tripoli fell in August, loyalists to the former regime have continued to hold out in Sirte against the forces of the west-backed National Transitional Council (NTC).

“We are getting very close to the fall of Sirte, which I think may bring the Libyan conflict to a close,” Dr Fox said after a meeting of the National Security Council.

Foreign Secretary William Hague stressed later in the Commons, however, that not all Libyans were yet safe from attack and UK forces would remain as long as needed.

Sirte - Reuters

He told MPs the NTC had “consolidated its hold on the vast majority of Libya’s territory”.

“The remaining Gaddafi supporters are concentrated in Bani Walid and in Sirte, where there has been intense fighting,” Mr Hague said.

Perhaps, but those towns and cities deemed captured by the NTC are still seeing skirmishes, occasional heavy fighting, and deaths, according to a nurse in Zawiya, which has seen some of the bloodiest battles of the Libyan war.

The nurse at the main hospital in the city told Channel 4 News that Zawiya was “not safe at all, still fighting all the time, but not as bad as before”.

“There is still lots of gunfire between these rebels and what we think are Gaddafi people. Still the (residents) do not come out of their homes at night because of fighting, which is more on the (outskirts) of the city.

“What did people think, that every Gaddafi supporter has left? Of course not,” she said, adding that the hospital itself was secure.

The nurse said that she had heard from fellow nurses in Misrata that there was intermittent fighting in and around the city, too.

Mutassim - Getty


There are conflicting reports about the fate of Gaddafi’s fifth son, Mutassim.

Several news agencies say quoted NTC figures that Mutassim had been seized in Sirte as he was trying to leave the city in a family car, and detained in Benghazi.

However, a military commander in the city has now denied the claims and Guma El-Gamaty, the NTC’s UK co-ordinator, tweeted: “Why does Reuters news agency put out false reports on arrest of Gadhafi’s sons. It was Seif in August and now Muatassim?! Who leaks 2 them?!”

The confusion over Mutassim’s capture – or lack thereof – is the latest in a series of conflicting reports regarding the status of Gaddafi’s kin and inner circle.

In August, the International Criminal Court in The Hague claimed that Gaddafi’s heir apparent, Saif, had been arrested and was under detention. But he appeared just hours later before the foreign media, unshackled and in good spirits.

Another of Gaddafi’s sons, Khamis, has thrice been claimed to have been killed by rebel fighters, and twice he has emerged alive in the days following. In March, it was incorrectly claimed that he was killed in a suicide air mission on his barracks.

A Libyan air force pilot crashed his jet into the Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli in a kamikaze attack, and Khamis was alleged to have died of burns in hospital.

However, he later appeared on state television surrounded by his supporters. On 5 August, rebels again claimed that Khamis had perished in a Nato air attack in Libya’s western city of Zlitan which killed 32 people. And again he appeared on television days later.

Widespread reports on Monday said Khamis was leading his troops in the direction of central Tripoli. And last month, rebels claimed that two bodies found belonged to Khamis and Gaddafi’s intelligence chief Abdallah Senussi.

Neither death has since been verified, and it has recently been reported that he could be leading forced loyal to his father during the Battle of Sirte.

Rebels had also claimed that Saif’s brother Saadi have been captured, although he later emerged in neighbouring Niger with the promise the country would refuse applications for his extradition.

Meanwhile, Human rights group Amnesty International has published a report detailing beatings and ill-treatment of captured Gaddafi soldiers, suspected loyalists and alleged mercenaries in western Libya.

Amnesty called on the new authorities in Libya to “stamp out arbitrary detention and widespread abuse of detainees”.

The report found that armed militia have arrested and detained as many as 2,500 people since late August in Tripoli and Zawiya.

Amnesty researchers visited 11 detention facilities and interviewed around 300 prisoners, many of whom said they had effectively been abducted from their homes without any kind of arrest warrant.

The researchers found what Amnesty said was “clear evidence of torture in order to extract confessions or as a punishment”, including hearing the sound of whipping and screams from a cell.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa deputy director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said: “These detainees have in most cases been arrested without a warrant, beaten – and sometimes worse – on arrest and arrival in detention. They are vulnerable to abuse by armed militias who often act on their own initiative.

“The NTC has to act urgently to translate their public commitments into action before such abuses become entrenched and stain the new Libya’s human rights record.”