Outgunned Libyan rebels flee oil town
LOYALIST forces have overrun the Libyan oil town of Ras Lanuf, scattering outgunned rebels as world powers debate arming the rag-tag fighters seeking to oust Muammar Gaddafi.
Rebel fighters said Gaddafi’s troops last night swept through Ras Lanuf, strategic for its oil refinery, blazing away with tanks and heavy artillery fire.
Panicked rebels fled in their hundred sthrough Uqayla, 20km east of Ras Lanuf, calling for coalition air strikes on Gaddafi’s forces, before driving further away from the front lines through the oil town of Brega and on towards the main city of Ajdabiya, 120km away.
‘‘ We want two things: that the planes drop bombs on Gaddafi’s tanks and heavy artillery; and that they ( the coalition f orces) give us weapons so we can fight,’’ rebel fighter Yunes Abdelghaim said.
The 27-year-old, who was holding a Russian AK-47 assault rifle and French flag, said it seemed as if the coalition had halted its air strikes for two days coinciding with a London conference on the Libyan crisis.
‘‘ We want the French to bomb the (Gaddafi) soldiers, ’’ said another f i ghter, Ali Atiaal-Faturi, as the sound of shelling and gunfire grew louder.
On Tues-day the rebels came within 100km of Sirte, the strongman’s hometown, before encountering fierce resistance which reversed an advance launched when Britain, France and t he United States started UN- mandated air strikes on March 19. Under barrages of artillery fire, rebel fighters stampeded down the coastal road in clouds of dust, many fleeing aboard pick up trucks.
They huddled down in Ras Lanuf overnight but soon after dawn Gaddafi’s forces launched their onslaught.
British Prime Minister David Cameron refused yesterday to rule out arming the rebels after French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said at a London conference the previous day that France was prepared to hold discussions on the issue.
Asked in parliament what Britain’s policy was on arming the rebels, given the existence of a United Nations arms embargo on Libya, Cameron replied: ‘‘ We do not rule it out but we have not taken the decision to do so’’.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow believed that foreign powers did not have the right to arm the rebels under the mandate approved by the UN Security Council.
Belgium, too, voiced its opposition to arming Libya’s rebels, warning that the move could alienate Arab nations.