As Gaddafi holds on, some Libyans seek foreign intervention

Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, March 2, 2011

BENGHAZI, LIBYA - Rebel leaders in eastern Libya called Tuesday for international military intervention to help topple Moammar Gaddafi, as the realization dawned that people power alone may not be enough to dislodge their nation's autocratic leader from his last remaining strongholds.

The rebels said they do not want ground forces, but they are increasingly coming around to the view that help in the form of a no-fly zone, as well as airstrikes and supplies of weaponry, will be necessary to ensure Gaddafi's fall.

U.S. military officials said the rebels have not yet asked them for help, and on Tuesday they played down the likelihood of the United States setting up a no-fly zone.

But in the eastern city of Benghazi, the center of the resistance, some members of the committee formed to run the city said they expected to issue a formal request for military assistance to the international community Wednesday.

And in Misurata, a town about 120 miles east of Tripoli that is besieged by Gaddafi's militias, a spokesman for the newly formed committees set up to run that town said residents also want foreign help against Gaddafi.

"A no-fly zone would limit his movements, his ability to move mercenaries from south to north and to recruit mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa," said a member of the media committee, Saadoun, who requested that he be identified only by a nom de guerre because Misurata remains hotly contested.

"Providing military equipment and arms to our free army in the east will help the free army march to Tripoli," said Saadoun in a telephone interview. "And we want surgical military strikes to target his militia and make this end swiftly and quickly and not to shed any more innocent Libyan blood."

The state of play in Misurata illustrates the risk of a protracted standoff, or even that Gaddafi loyalists may be able to reassert themselves.

Regime opponents are in full control of the center of the town, and several thousand held a large and peaceful demonstration in the main square Wednesday, according to residents and the spokesman. They also claim control over most of the vast military air base to the south.

But militias loyal to Gaddafi have retained control of a portion of the base, and there are near-daily confrontations between rebels and the militias along what has become a front line running through the airfield.

The militias also control a barracks on the edge of the town. And residents said that on Sunday night, gunmen presumed to be loyal to Gaddafi abducted 400 students from a remote military academy. The gunmen shot their way in, loaded the students onto buses and drove them to an unknown destination, said Saadoun, citing the accounts of two officers at the base who escaped.

Misurata lies on the coast between Gaddafi's home town of Sirte and the capital, Tripoli, where he still appears to command enough support to hold at bay the popular uprising that has engulfed other parts of Libya.

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