Libya revolt: Rebels mark 'victory' after Brega battle

Anti-Gaddafi rebels outside Brega. Photo: 2 March 2011 The excited rebels appear to be very proud of what they have achieved

Rebels in Libya have been celebrating after fighting off an attempt by troops loyal to Col Muammar Gaddafi to retake the eastern oil port of Brega.

The town was full of jubilant people, who fired their guns in the air, the BBC's John Simpson in Brega reports.

Well-armed Gaddafi forces were numerous and appeared to gain the upper hand, but were later forced to retreat.

Separately, the Netherlands confirmed three of its marines had been captured by pro-Gaddafi forces.

They had been helping to evacuate two European civilians when they were detained in the city of Sirte.

Col Gaddafi has warned he will "fight until the last man and woman".

In a televised speech on Wednesday, Col Gaddafi also said that thousands of Libyans would die if Western forces intervened.

At the scene

Several thousand people if not more are camping out, sleeping rough around the border crossing on the Tunisian side. It's a remarkable sight - most of them are Egyptian migrant workers who haven't been able to be bussed out yet, and who are camping around with their possessions, huddled in blankets they carry with them, waiting.

They are getting angry and frustrated. Some have been there a week or more.

Every hour or so they have been mounting demonstrations near where the media are, chanting: "Where is our government? Why are they not doing more to help us, the Egyptian army, air force, navy? Why aren't they taking us away?

Discussions continue at the UN about the idea of implementing a no-fly zone to stop pro-Gaddafi forces launching air attacks on rebel forces.

But the BBC's Barbara Plett in New York says Russia, among others, is unlikely to support any no-fly zone proposal unless there are air raids by Colonel Gaddafi's forces on civilians.

Meanwhile, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has spoken to Colonel Gaddafi to discuss the establishment of a "peace commission" to mediate in the country.

Communications Minister Andres Izarra did not say how the Libyan leader had reacted to President Chavez's proposal.

'Important reverse'

The BBC's John Simpson said that he had been to Brega's seashore and university, where the heaviest fighting took place on Wednesday, and they appeared entirely clear of pro-Gaddafi troops.

Our correspondent says that a senior rebel officer suggested the Gaddafi troops - who had arrived in more than 100 vehicles and had managed to briefly seize the university and an oil refinery - might have run out of ammunition and been forced to withdraw.

The excited rebels appear to be very proud of what they have achieved, our correspondent says, and the feeling in the town is that Col Gaddafi's men do not necessarily have their hearts in the job.

A Libyan air force plane did recently drop one bomb nearby, he says, but the attempt by Col Gaddafi to move on the eastern rebel-held areas - his first such attack in two weeks - appears for now to have been repulsed and, although this is by no means a final victory, it is an important reverse for the Libyan leader.

Medical sources in Brega told BBC Arabic that 14 people had been killed in the fighting.

Libya map

Our correspondent says an airforce plane had earlier tried to bomb the vast weapons dump on the outskirt of Ajdabiya 50km (30 miles) from Brega.

He says most people in Ajdabiya probably assumed at that point that Col Gaddafi's forces were on their way and that there was little between them and the rebel capital Benghazi 100 miles away. But volunteers came pouring in from Benghazi and Ajdabiya.

'False reports'

In his speech broadcast on Libyan TV in a large hall in Tripoli, Col Gaddafi warned against any foreign intervention.

"We will not accept [an] American intervention. This will lead to a bloody war and thousands of Libyans will die if America and Nato enter Libya.

"We are ready to hand out weapons to a million, or two million or three million, and another Vietnam will begin."

He said the UN had passed resolutions condemning Libya based on "false reports" and he challenged the UN to investigate.

Hafeez Ghoga, new Benghazi National Council: "We're trying to build an army from scratch"

"We urge the world, the United Nations, to see where the people were killed, to send a fact-finding team."

He condemned those countries that had frozen Libyan assets, saying: "The assets are the assets of the Libyan nation... I am the asset of Libya, not the American dollar."

Col Gaddafi spoke as a crowd of supporters and officials chanted the slogan: "God, Muammar and Libya."

In two weeks of unrest, Col Gaddafi has lost control of large parts of Libya.

No-fly zone debate

The violence has led to a major humanitarian crisis on the Tunisian border, with tens of thousands of foreigners, most of them Egyptian, stranded and unable to get home.

Some 75,000 people have fled to Tunisia since unrest began and 40,000 more are waiting to cross, the UN says.

Britain, France, Spain and other countries on Wednesday launched emergency airlifts to evacuate those gathered at the border.

Libya and the West

Telegraph headline
Libya was an Italian colony before World War II. It gained independence in 1951 under the leadership of King Idris. Oil was discovered in 1959.
Telegraph headline
In 1969, a group of officers led by Muammar al-Gaddafi staged a bloodless coup while King Idris was in Turkey for medical treatment.
Telegraph headline
Gaddafi's relations with the West were strained. US President Carter's administration declared Libya a state sponsor of terrorism in 1979.
Telegraph headline
In 1986 the US bombed Gaddafi's residence killing his adopted daughter after two US soldiers died in a Libyan-backed blast at a Berlin nightclub.
Telegraph headline
The US also imposed sanctions on Libya in 1986. Then, in 1988, Libya was implicated in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland.
Telegraph headline
Relations began to improve in 1999 when Libya handed over two men to be tried for the Lockerbie bombing, one of whom was found guilty.
Telegraph headline
In 2006 Libya was dropped from the US state sponsors of terror list. Western leaders flocked to visit the country and set up business links.
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The World Food Programme announced a $38.7m aid programme for the 2.7 million people it says are engulfed in the Libyan crisis.

Meanwhile the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said on Wednesday he was formally opening an investigation into crimes against humanity in Libya.

Debate is also continuing in the international community over imposing a no-fly zone to curb the Libyan air force, which has been called for by rebels.

But that is a controversial proposal with potential risks, the BBC's Barbara Plett at the UN says.

UK PM David Cameron has said it is right to be looking at plans for the zone.

The Arab League says it would consider imposing the no-fly zone in co-ordination with the African Union.

But US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said this will be a big operation that would need "an attack on Libya to destroy the air defences".

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