Colonel Gaddafi calls for a truce as a flood of defections threatens to fatally weaken his grip on power.
Eight Libyan army officers have appeared at a press conference in Rome after defecting from Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.
The beleaguered dictator has renewed calls for a ceasefire as the NATO bombardment of his command infrastructure continues.
The defectors were part of a group of up to 120 military officials and soldiers who have abandoned the Gaddafi regime and fled from Libya in recent days.
One of the officers, General Melud Massoud Halasa, said Gaddafi’s military forces are now “only 20 per cent as effective” as they were before the rebellion broke out in February and “not more than ten” generals remain loyal to Gaddafi.
General Oun Ali Oun said: “What is happening to our people has frightened us. There is a lot of killing, genocide … violence against women. No wise, rational person with the minimum of dignity can do what we saw with our eyes and what he asked us to do.”
President Jacob Zuma of South Africa has paid Gaddafi a second visit in an effort to negotiate a peace deal. He said Gaddafi had repeated calls for a truce including an end to NATO’s bombing campaign.
But as in their last meeting, the Libyan leader gave no indication that he is ready to step down – something rebel leaders say is a necessary condition of any ceasefire.
Within hours of the South African President’s departure, Libyan television reported that NATO aircraft had resumed air attacks, hitting civilian and military sites in the desert settlement of Al Jufrah.
The latest RAF missions saw Tornado and Typhoon jets destroy five transporters carrying tanks near the town of Zlitan, west of the rebel-held city of Misrata.
As well as promising to deploy Apache attack helicopters, the British Government has sent one-tonne “bunker-busting” bombs to the Italian air base from where British warplanes fly missions over Libya.
A video posted online showed angry crowds chanting slogans against Gaddafi, in what his opponents said was proof that demonstrations were growing in the capital, Tripoli. The footage showed hundreds of mourners at a funeral chanting “Muammar is the enemy of God!” and “God loves martyrs!”
Gaddafi’s reign of terror is coming to an end. Anders Fogh Rasmussen
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said: “Our operation in Libya is achieving its objectives … We have seriously degraded Gaddafi’s ability to kill his own people. Gaddafi’s reign of terror is coming to an end.”
Other military figures said NATO forces are already planning for the end of Gaddafi’s 41-year rule. US Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of the Joint Operations Command, declined to comment on whether NATO would put forces on the ground but suggested a small force may be needed to help the rebels after Gaddafi’s regime collapses.
A UN spokesman said supplies of food and medicine in Gaddafi-controlled areas could run out within weeks, creating a humanitarian “timebomb”.
Al-Jazeera broadcast footage of what it said were armed Westerners, possibly Britons, liaising with rebels on the outskirts of Misrata. The network called the pictures the first evidence that allied troops are already on the ground in Libya.
The foreigners, which the Qatar-based station said may have been co-ordinating upcoming helicopter attacks, appeared to leave the scene quickly when they spotted the camera crews.
There has been widespread speculation that British special forces having already been deployed to help extract British nationals from Libya and to work alongside anti-Gaddafi rebels.