NATO denies Libyan casualty claims

TRIPOLI, Libya, Aug. 10 (UPI) -- NATO officials denied Libyan government claims that 85 civilians died in a NATO airstrike near the city of Zlitan, saying the target was a military facility.

"We do not have evidence of civilian casualties at this stage, although casualties among military personnel, including mercenaries, are very likely due to the nature of the target," NATO spokesman Col. Roland Lavoie, spokesman for Operation Unified Protector, said during a news briefing Tuesday in Naples, Italy.


Lavoie said the target in the Monday night airstrike was one-time farm buildings taken over by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and converted into a "field military complex with temporary accommodation facilities used as a staging point" and being reinforced with troops, weapons and other military equipment.

Libyan officials accused NATO of killing 85 citizens in the airstrike and took journalists to nearby hospitals to view people Libyan leaders said were injured in the strike Tuesday.

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"[We] had very clear intelligence demonstrating that this was clearly a military target," Lavoie said. "So [there were] no expectations of any civilian casualties."


He said he was aware of the press tour and that NATO officials took the allegations seriously, "although they are very frequent and frequently organized in a timely fashion to coincide with these news conferences."

Lavoie said NATO officials conduct an assessment after every strike to "basically see the consequence of our action. At this stage, I have not received this assessment."

While cautioning against drawing conclusions, the NATO spokesman said it was becoming apparent that pro-Gadhafi forces are losing their ability to conduct massive offensives."

However, he said, "This does not preclude them, however, from operating from covert locations in agricultural, administrative or even residential facilities or schools from where they command and conduct attacks."

Also Tuesday, Libyan state television showed footage of Gadhafi's son, Khamis, making a hospital visit. Rebel leaders last week claimed the younger Gadhafi was killed during an air strike.

The Tripoli Post said the television footage was filmed Tuesday and provided the first visual proof that Khamis Gadhafi was alive.

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