x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Rebels say 10,000 have have died in battles

Stalemate has set in as Nato and Europe bicker over next step.

MISURATA, LIBYA // Libyan rebels put the death toll in two months of fighting Col Muammar Qaddafi's forces at 10,000, while Britain has promised to send military advisers to help rebels organise themselves.

The UN said yesterday it has sent food for 50,000 people to western Libya as aid groups scrambled to reach trapped civilians.

One month after Nato allies dropped their first bombs on Col Qaddafi's forces, there appeared no end in sight to what experts are now warning will be a prolonged military stalemate in which civilians casualties will mount.

Late yesterday, a senior official of the rebels governing the besieged city of Misurata said they were formally asking for Western troops to intervene to protect them from loyalist forces.

Nuri Abdullah Abdullati told reporters that they were asking for French and British soldiers on the basis of "humanitarian" principles.

"If they don't come, we will die," he said.

But the British foreign secretary, William Hague, said earlier in the day that London would send only about a dozen "experienced" military officers to rebel-held eastern Libya, though he was at pains to say they would not be involved in training or arming the rebels.

For his part, the French foreign minister, Alain Juppe, said he was "hostile" to the idea of sending ground troops into Libya, even special forces to guide air strikes.

With thousands clamouring to escape the besieged rebel city of Misurata, Britain said it would charter ships to pick up 5,000 migrant workers.

Franco Frattini, Italy's foreign minister, said the conflict had so far killed 10,000 people and wounded 55,000, citing figures compiled by the Benghazi-based rebel government.

"The president spoke to us of 10,000 dead and 50,000 to 55,000 injured," Mr Frattini said after talks in Rome with Libyan rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil.

Mr Frattini also said Italy will host talks next month on allowing oil exports from eastern Libya and could provide Libyan rebels with night-vision equipment and radars.

He said after his meeting with Mr Jalil that a meeting of the international contact group on Libya in Rome would discuss "legal instruments to allow the sale of oil products."

The meeting would also try to find ways of using assets owned by Col Qaddafi's regime that have been frozen around the world in order to aid the rebels and would discuss the thorny issue of arming the Libyan rebels, he said.

"We have condemned the violence of the regime in the streets, we have condemned the use of snipers in Tripoli and in the besieged cities ... We can't say this is not our problem," Mr Frattini said.

Italy was weighing the possibility of sending "night-vision equipment, radars and technology to block communications," he said.

Mr Hague said Britain is sending officers to help rebels improve their organisation, communications and logistics.

The UN resolution that authorised international air strikes to protect Libyan civilians expressly forbids any foreign occupation of Libyan soil, and Mr Hague insisted the deployment was "fully within the terms" of that resolution.

"Consistent with our obligations under that resolution, our officers will not be involved in training or arming the opposition's fighting forces," Mr Hague said.

"Nor will they be involved in the planning or execution of the Libyan rebels' Transitional National Council military operations or in the provision of any other form of operational military advice."

"In particular they will advise the TNC on how to improve their military organisational structures, communications and logistics, including how best to distribute humanitarian aid and deliver medical assistance."

* Agence France-Presse with additional reporting by Associated Press