Libyan opposition forces battled for control of Sirte, Muammar Qaddafi’s birthplace, as the leaders of the U.K. and France pledged aid to the country’s new rulers during a visit to Tripoli.
Anti-Qaddafi forces withdrew to the outskirts of Sirte, one of the last holdout cities, after a day of fighting, Al Jazeera television reported today, citing Yousif bin Yousif, an opposition commander. The Misrata Military Council said earlier its forces took control of the entrances to the city and units started searching for officials loyal to Qaddafi.
The withdrawal is to “prepare for an invasion of the city in the next few hours,” bin Yousif told Al Jazeera. “It’s a military tactic.”
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy became the first foreign leaders to visit Tripoli since helping opposition forces oust Qaddafi last month. They said they would push at the United Nations Security Council today for the adoption of a resolution releasing more Libyan assets frozen under sanctions against Qaddafi.
“This is not finished, this is not done, this is not over; there are still parts of Libya under Qaddafi’s control,” Cameron told a joint news conference in the Libyan capital yesterday. “We will help you to find Qaddafi and bring him to justice.”
Television pictures showed Cameron and Sarkozy being cheered as they visited a Tripoli hospital. They later addressed a crowd on Freedom Square in Benghazi, Libya’s second city. Britain is unfreezing 600 million pounds ($950 million) of Libyan assets, Cameron’s spokesman, Steve Field, told reporters in London.
The Misrata council said earlier yesterday that Qaddafi loyalists were surrounded in an insurance building in Sirte’s city center.
Elements of the 32nd Brigade -- the special forces unit commanded by Qaddafi’s son Khamis and tasked in the past with protecting the former Libyan dictator -- were trapped in beachfront villas, it said.
The Misrata council said the Sirte attack was carried out with 900 technicals, the pickup trucks carrying machine guns or rocket launchers.
“The message to Qaddafi and all those still holding arms on his behalf is that it’s over, give up, the mercenaries should go home,” Cameron said. “It’s time for him to give himself up. It’s time for the Libyan people to get the justice they deserve.”
“People have constantly underrated and underestimated the National Transitional Council; people said they couldn’t unite Libya, they were too tribal,” Cameron said, speaking alongside NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil and Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril. “It has been an impressive transformation. The roads are full, your water is flowing and your hospitals are working.”
Sarkozy said airstrikes against pro-Qaddafi forces “will continue as long as Libyan leaders think Libyan people are in danger.”
The new leaders of Libya are seeking to build a country where there is a “rotation of power and the abandoning of terrorism,” Abdel Jalil said. “We aspire for freedom to prevail over all Libyan soil and for the arrest of Muammar Qaddafi alive and his trial.”
Asked whether their intervention had been influenced by a desire to get at Libya’s oil wealth, Sarkozy said “there were no kickbacks, no hidden agreements to access Libya’s resources. We did what we thought was fair.”
If Libya’s new leadership chooses to work with French companies, “it will be good. But it has to be done according to the rule of law, through tenders,” he said.
Giving details of the U.K. aid, Cameron’s spokesman said Britain will send two soldiers to work with the U.S. and Libyans on securing weapons belonging to the Qaddafi regime. Their focus will be “small surface-to-air missiles,” Field said.
Britain is also sending 1 million pounds ($1.6 million) to agencies working on weapons decommissioning and 600,000 pounds ($950,000) to the Mines Advisory Group to support its work disposing of explosives and land mines. Police in Benghazi will get communications equipment valued at 60,000 pounds ($95,000), and the U.K. is offering forensics advice to those looking for evidence of human-rights abuses.
‘Courage of Lions’
In Benghazi, the initial center of the rebel movement, Cameron told cheering crowds that they had inspired the world.
“Your city was an inspiration to the world as it threw off a dictator and chose freedom,” he said. “Colonel Qaddafi said he would hunt you down like rats, but you showed the courage of lions, and we salute you.”
Sarkozy said that “the future of Libya resides in a united Libya and not a divided Libya.”
Libya said 18 out of 19 ports were now “operational,” according to a notice to the UN’s shipping agency from the NTC about the ports’ status was published on the website of Inchcape Shipping Services yesterday.
The North African country will resume crude exports within three or four days, the nation’s representative to a meeting of Arab central bank governors in Doha said yesterday. Output will be about 700,000 barrels a day by the end of this year and an estimated 1.6 million barrels a day by the end of 2012, Abdulla Saudi told reporters in the Qatari capital.
The U.K. has put forward a draft resolution to the UN Security Council to end an asset freeze on Libyan National Oil Corp. and Zueitina Oil Co., according to a Western diplomat who spoke on condition of not being identified. The 15-member body may vote on the measure today.
The resolution also would authorize the Central Bank of Libya, the Libyan Foreign Bank, the Libyan Investment Authority and the Libyan Africa Investment Portfolio to use their assets for specified purposes. Those include purchases of humanitarian aid; fuel, electricity and water for civilian use; and the strengthening of Libya’s government and economy.
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