Fighting picks up in Bani Walid, Sirte
Fierce fighting raged today in Bani Walid as NTC fighters attacked the oasis town where a son of Moamer Gaddafi is believed holed up, possibly with his father, said Libya's rulers.
"The revolutionaries came to Bani Walid this morning and engaged in a hard battle," Abdullah Kenshil, a senior official in the National Transitional Council (NTC), told AFP.
Kenshil said the battle against Gaddafi's mercenaries for control of Bani Walid, one of the ousted strongman's few remaining bastions southeast of Tripoli, was a "done deal and will be completed in the next two days."
The NTC official said that Seif al-Islam, the most prominent son of the ousted Libyan leader, had been seen in Bani Walid, and that it was likely that his father was also in the oasis town.
"Seif al-Islam was seen in Bani Walid; this is 100 percent certain. As for his father, he was there too; we are 70 percent sure," Kenshil told AFP, adding they were only being defended by mercenaries.
"Those fighting in Bani Walid are not necessarily Gaddafi's brigades, whose members joined the NTC forces," said Kenshil, adding they were "mercenaries from Chad, Niger and Togo, according to the bodies we have recovered."
Gaddafi, his son Seif al-Islam and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi have been at large since rebels overran Tripoli on August 23. They are wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity.
Yesterday, the NTC's forces were beaten back after pushing into Bani Walid. Correspondents heard loud explosions and intermittent gunfire from inside the town, and rockets exploded near NTC positions on its outskirts.
"We folded because of the intensity of the bombing by the loyalist forces against our positions," Kenshil said, adding negotiations were underway for the evacuation of about 50,000 civilians from the town.
Pro-NTC forces this afternoon also resumed their battle for Sirte after regrouping overnight.
"Fighting has started and it is more artillery shelling at the moment," said NTC commander Abdel Mustafa.
"Our fighters are spread out and the idea is to slowly and steadily advance ahead," Mustafa said as the sound of heavy artillery fire echoed in the background.
"In the morning it was quiet, but now the fighting has picked up and as the day progresses we expect it to intensify."
Frontline fighters in Sirte are convinced that MutassimGaddafi , a career soldier and former national security adviser to his father, is hiding in the southern outskirts of the one-time strongman's hometown.
Radio chatter intercepted by former rebels showed a lieutenant by the code name of Abu Bakr issuing orders to Gaddafi loyalists to shoot heavy artillery despite counter-appeals to protect civilian life, an AFP journalist said.
"Shoot, shoot," crackled the radio.
"We don't need them. You have experience in Chad. Just shoot."
NTC fighters said that the same pro-Gaddafi commander promised to come to Mutassim's rescue saying: "Master, master... we will protect you as ordered by your father."
That report could not be verified by Misrata's military council.
In Geneva, a United Nations team set up to investigate human rights violations in Libya said meanwhile it was concerned about allegations that many black Africans were being illegally detained in the country.
"In recent weeks, reports have emerged of the mass arrest of black Africans who are suspected of being pro-Gaddafi mercenaries," Philippe Kirsch, a member of the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya told the Human Rights Council.
"It has been reported that large numbers of migrant workers from Chad, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Sudan have allegedly been arbitrarily arrested by security forces of the NTC in Tripoli," he said.
Mussa Ibrahim, Gaddafi's spokesman, boasted in a phone call to Syria-based Arrai television channel that loyalist troops have won several battles in the past few days against NTC fighters.
"We have won several battles against the NATO collaborators and managed to push them out of Bani Walid and Sirte," Ibrahim said, without disclosing his whereabouts nor that of his boss..
"In spite of deadly NATO strikes our forces resist and our fighters pursue their fight because we are involved in a battle for dignity and against the forces of evil."
Ibrahim said he was confident Tripoli would be "reconquered."
The NTC suffered setbacks on the political front yesterday when last-minute haggling over portfolios forced an indefinite delay in announcing a cabinet line-up.
"The announcement of a new transitional government has been postponed indefinitely in order to finalise consultations," NTC number two Mahmud Jibril said.
But in an apparent effort to put on a brave face, Jibril said much has been achieved to deal out several portfolios, adding he expected consultations on the rest to be "over quickly."