U.N., EU teams race to Libya amid fighting

March 7, 2011 at 6:59 PM
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TRIPOLI, Libya, March 7 (UPI) -- Government-backed forces struck the rebel-controlled town of Ras Lanuf in eastern Libya Monday and claimed victory in the fight for Bin Jawad, witnesses said.

Planes flew over the Ras Lanuf area and opposition fighters fired anti-aircraft guns at them, CNN reported.

In Bin Jawad, reports indicate the Libyan army controls the city after a weekend of fighting in which at least five people died.

Anti-government protesters are seeking the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi who has ruled the country for nearly 42 years.

While Gadhafi uses aircraft against his own people, NATO began surveillance flights over the country, CNN reported.

Officials from Western powers are considering what steps could be taken to bring about an end to the unrest in Libya. U.N. diplomatic sources told CNN British, French and U.S. officials were drafting language laying the framework for establishing a no-fly zone over the North African nation.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said along with a no-fly zone, other possible responses include military-backed humanitarian aid and stronger enforcement of the U.N. arms embargo.

Carney told reporters "it would be premature to send a bunch of weapons to a post office box in eastern Libya" to help the insurgents.

"We need to not get ahead of ourselves in terms of the options we're pursuing," he said.

CNN said a senior U.S. official denied a report in the British press that the administration had asked Saudi Arabia to arm the rebels.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague told members of Parliament the government is "making contingency plans for all eventualities in Libya."

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Belgium "as a defense alliance and a security organization, it is our job to conduct prudent planning for any eventuality."

"The violation of human rights and international humanitarian law is outrageous," he said.

Rasmussen said defense ministers from member states will meet Friday and Saturday to go over matters in North Africa and the broader Middle East.

The Guardian reported Libyan jets have struck repeatedly against opposition fighters near Ras Lanuf as they advanced on Sirte.

"We will fight. The Gadhafi regime is over," the British newspaper quoted Iman Bugaighis, spokeswoman for the Provisional Transitional National Council of Libya, as saying. "It's a personal issue for everybody. Our country is occupied."

The United Nations has appointed a special envoy to Libya and the European Union sent a crisis team to Libya Monday.

In Misurata, witnesses said opposition forces held off an onslaught by Gadhafi's troops to keep control of the city, CNN reported. Rebel fighters used machine guns, sticks and any other weapons they could find to repel Gadhafi militias armed with tanks and heavy artillery, the witness said.

"The will and the determination and dedication that people are showing here on the ground, it just makes you speechless," he said.

A doctor said 42 people were killed in Sunday's fighting. Various rights groups have estimated at least 1,000 people have been killed since the uprising began last month. A Libyan diplomat puts the death toll closer to 2,000.

About 200,000 people have fled Libya into Tunisia and Egypt, the U.N. refugee agency has said.

Several hundred expatriates from Mali gathered outside Mali's Embassy in Tripoli, seeking assistance to leave Libya, CNN reported. Many said they were migrant workers who no longer have any work.

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