Gaddafi forces strike restive Libya area: residents

ALGIERS/CAIRO (Reuters) – Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi attacked two towns on Sunday in a mountainous region southwest of the capital where local people have been defying Gaddafi’s rule, residents said.

Government forces used tanks to shell Zintan, 160 km (100 miles) from Tripoli, while two people were killed in shelling on nearby Yafran. Gaddafi’s troops were killing farmers’ livestock there, residents said.

Both towns are in the Western Mountains region which is populated by Berbers, a group ethnically distinct from most Libyans. Berber support for Gaddafi traditionally has been weaker than in other parts of the country.

A resident in Zintan, which has been under siege and subject to intermittent bombardment for weeks, told Reuters by telephone the attacks had resumed.

“Gaddafi’s brigades bombarded Zintan with tanks in the early hours on Sunday. There has been random bombardment of the northern area (of Zintan). They are still besieging the town,” the resident, Abdulrahman, said.

A resident in Yafran, quoted by Al Arabiya, a pan-Arab satellite television station, said the town had been subject to fierce attacks since Saturday.

“Residential areas have been shelled with Grad rockets,” the channel quoted the resident, Ezref, as saying. “Two people have died a short while ago and so far we have four wounded.”

The Zintan resident Abdulrahman said he had been in touch with relatives in Yafran who told him pro-Gaddafi forces had moved into the area around the town.

“They have been searching houses … The soldiers have killed everything they found, including cattle. They have killed and eaten a countless number of sheep,” he said.

“About 100 camels belonging to one of my relatives were killed. They kill everything.”

Accounts from Zintan and Yafran could not be independently verified because Libyan officials have prevented journalists from reaching the region.

Libya’s Berbers are concentrated in a sparsely-populated mountain range that starts about 100 km due south of Tripoli and stretches westwards to the border with Tunisia.

Soon after a nationwide revolt against Gaddafi’s four-decade rule in February, there were reports that Berber towns including Nalout, Yafran and Zintan had rejected central rule and set up local committees to run their own affairs.

Gaddafi’s forces did not immediately intervene to restore control, possibly because they were preoccupied fighting rebels in the east of Libya and trying to put down an uprising in the country’s third-biggest city, Misrata.

Libyan state television reported earlier this week that Western coalition air strikes had hit targets in Arrujban, which is also in the western mountains.

(Reporting by Marwa Awad and Tom Pfeiffer in Cairo and Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers; Editing by Michael Roddy)

Gaddafi forces strike restive Libya area: residents