Rebels clear land mines, advance on Brega

July 18, 2011 at 7:09 AM
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BREGA, Libya, July 18 (UPI) -- Libyan rebels say their forces have advanced closer to Brega as leader Moammar Gadhafi vowed never to leave the country willingly.

Rebel leaders said they dismantled thousands of landmines and have advanced to within less than 6 miles of the city in eastern Libya, CNN reported Monday.

"Our forces are only 9 kilometers [5 1/2 miles] away from Brega now after a small group clashed with Gadhafi troops over the weekend," said Col. Ahmed Banni, Libya's Transitional National Transitional military leader said.

Fighting erupted after the rebels deactivated thousands of land mines during the past few days to secure their route toward Brega, he said.

"Almost the entire area around Brega is full of land mines," Banni said, adding that pro-Gadhafi troops lit an oil-filled trench to defend the eastern entrance of the city

"So this may delay our plan to take over the city since they have linked the trench to an oil pipeline so they keep the fire going," he added.

A group of pro-democracy forces entered the oil city on a reconnoitering mission and fought with pro-Gadhafi forces, a rebel fighter told CNN. At least 11 rebel soldiers died and dozens were wounded, the fighter said.

Meanwhile, Gadhafi remained defiant in the face of renewed international calls for him to step down after four decades of power, Radio France Internationale reported.

"I am ready to sacrifice myself for my people. ... I will never quit this land sprinkled with the blood of my ancestors," Gadhafi told supporters in Zawiyah Sunday.

On Friday, Western and regional powers met in Istanbul, Turkey, for the fourth meeting of the Libya contact group. They issued a new call for Gadhafi to quit after more than four decades in power.

Tripoli was rocked with explosions Saturday night into Sunday. State-controlled media reported NATO forces struck civilian and military sites.

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