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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

opposition hires mercenaries while Libyan turns to crooks

British mercenaries working for private security companies are in the Libyan city of Misrata, advising the protesters and supplying information to NATO.

The Guardian newspaper also reported Wednesday that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has armed criminals to crush the opposition in Zlitan.

Former members of the Special Air Service (SAS) are among those gathering information about the location and movement of troops loyal to Colonel Qaddafi, British military sources told the paper.

They are passing that information on to NATO’s command center in Naples.
The former soldiers are in Libya with the blessing of Britain, France and other NATO countries, the sources told The Guardian.

They have been supplied with non-combat equipment by the coalition forces.

Ministry of Defense (MoD) officials denied the private soldiers were being paid by the British government and insisted it had no combat troops on the ground, according to Agence-France Presse.
Libyan women sit near drawings of Libyan leader Qaddafi near a courthouse in Benghazi. (File photo)
Libyan women sit near drawings of Libyan leader Qaddafi near a courthouse in Benghazi. (File photo)
Britain last week approved the use of its deadly Apache attack helicopters in the operation.

The information being gathered by the opposition advisers was likely for use by British and French pilots during missions predicted for later this week, the paper reported.

Reports of their presence emerged after a pan-Arab news channel on Monday showed video footage of six armed westerners talking to armed protesters in the port city of Misrata, according to AFP.

Libya on Tuesday accused NATO of having killed 718 civilians and wounded 4,067 in 10 weeks of air strikes. Libya’s population is estimated at 6 million people.

Libya also denounced as illegal Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini’s visit to Benghazi on Tuesday.

Libya “firmly condemns this illegal visit,” a statement from the foreign ministry in Tripoli said, according to AFP.

Mr. Frattini’s visit was “a flagrant violation of international norms and conventions and interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign and independent member of the UN,” it added.

Mr. Frattini was visiting as Italy opened a consulate in Benghazi, reinforcing the rebel administration’s diplomatic standing.

Mr. Frattini’s visit came a day after efforts by South African President Jacob Zuma to mediate a ceasefire failed to achieve a breakthrough. Mr. Zuma met with Colonel Qaddafi in Tripoli.
South Africa's President Zuma greets Libyan leader Qaddafi (R) in Tripoli. (File photo)
South Africa's President Zuma greets Libyan leader Qaddafi (R) in Tripoli. (File photo)
An opposition spokesman, meanwhile, said that the 68-year-old colonel has armed criminals to crush a revolution against his rule in Zlitan, one of only three towns separating the revolt-held city of Misrata from Tripoli.

Giving a rare account of rebel activity from inside the small but strategically important coastal settlement, the spokesman, who only identified himself as Mohammed, told Reuters that forces loyal to the Libyan leader were recruiting criminals whose task was to arrest anyone suspected of being a rebel and to intimidate residents.

“They filled it with drug dealers, criminals and other crooks,” Mr. Mohammed said by telephone. “They gave them automatic weapons and hand grenades to oppress the residents of Zlitan. Besides arrests and intimidations, we hear accounts of rape.”

The last such incident, he said, involved a 12-year-old boy who this week was beaten and raped by militiamen. The boy was then abandoned in the street, he added.

There was no way of independently verifying incidents cited by Mr. Mohammed, but residents elsewhere in Libya have reported the apparent recruitment of criminals and thugs by Mr. Qaddafi’s forces.

A local resident who declined to be named told Reuters on Tuesday that signs of anti-Qaddafi revolt were also evident further west in the towns of Khoms and Garabulli.

If such acts spill over into open revolt, the three towns could act as stepping-stones to allow the anti-Qaddafi uprising to spread from Misrata, the biggest revolt outpost in western Libya, to Colonel Qaddafi’s stronghold in Tripoli.

The Libyan army appears to be preparing for such a threat by massing large numbers of troops and military equipment in and around Zlitan and Khoms, Mr. Mohammed said, citing witnesses.

He said the militiamen in Zlitan set up checkpoints before nightfall to intimidate car passengers and pedestrians who dared to venture outside at night. He said they arrested anyone they suspected of being a rebel supporter.

Unlike in the port city of Misrata, protesters in Zlitan, which lies some 170 kilometers east of Tripoli, are denied a steady flow of weapons by sea from the eastern revolt stronghold of Benghazi.

But Mr. Qaddafi’s opponents were fighting back, Mr. Mohammed said, in hopes of emulating their successes in nearby Misrata, where protesters drove loyalist troops out of the city in May after weeks of fierce street battles and intensive shelling attacks.

While Zlitan may be under government control during the day, Colonel Qaddafi’s opponents daub graffiti on walls, hoist the rebel flag and exchange fire with loyalists after dark.

Mr. Mohammed said: “Over the last few days, revolutionaries waged several attacks against pro-Qaddafi militiamen.”

(Abeer Tayel, an editor at Al Arabiya English,

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