The Mercury

Nato turns up heat on Libya

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TRIPOLI: British jets hit a military barracks in the Libyan capital yesterday, intensifyi­ng Nato pressure on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi nearly four months into an uprising to end his erratic 42year rule.

The air strikes on the barracks – repeated targets of Nato strikes – followed the Western alliance’s first use of attack helicopter­s on Saturday.

By intensifyi­ng attacks from the air and using helicopter­s to target government forces who melt into the civilian population for cover, Nato is providing a major boost to Libyan rebel forces who have seized much of the country’s east and toeholds in the west.

Emboldened rebels in recent days have forced government troops from three western towns and broken the siege of a fourth.

A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to reporters, said yesterday’s strikes caused no casualties because the barracks were abandoned after having come under repeated Nato attack.

Flying lower

A Nato official, however, said Royal Air Force Tornados fired eight missiles into a missile depot in Tripoli. The attacks yesterday also hit military sites in Tajoura, west of Tripoli.

Saturday’s strikes by British and French helicopter­s targeted Libyan troops hiding in populated areas, along with military vehicles and equipment – targets often unavailabl­e to higher-flying jet fighters. Until Saturday, Nato had relied on aircraft that typically fly above 4 500m. The jets primarily strike government targets but there have been cases when they missed and hit opposition forces by mistake.

At a regional security conference yesterday in Singapore, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ivanov said Nato was “one step” from the start of ground operations in Libya.

The Gaddafi regime has been slowly crumbling from within, with a significan­t number of officers and several cabinet ministers defecting, and most have expressed support for the opposition. But Gaddafi shows no signs of leaving power. – Sapa-AP

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