WRAPUP 3-Rebels say Gaddafi halts oil, Libya blames Britain

* Libyans say British air strike hits oil field

* Rebels say Libyan attacks stop oil output

* Gaddafi forces attack Misrata, rebels approach Brega

* France sees risk of NATO getting “bogged down”
(Writes through, adds Clinton, U.S. official comment)

By Maria Golovnina

TRIPOLI, April 7 (Reuters) – Libya accused Britain of
damaging an oil pipeline in an air strike, hours after rebels
said government attacks had halted production of oil they hope
to sell to finance their uprising.

“British warplanes have attacked, have carried out an air
strike against the Sarir oilfield which killed three oilfield
guards and other employees at the field were also injured,”
Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim told reporters.

There was no immediate comment from Britain’s Ministry of
Defence or from NATO, which is coordinating air strikes to
protect civilians in Libya from Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.

Kaim said the strike damaged a pipeline connecting the
oilfields to the Marsa el Hariga port. “There is no doubt this
aggression … is against international law and is not covered
by the U.N. resolution,” he said.

Any damage to a pipeline leading to Marsa el Hariga is
likely to cause more harm to the rebels than to Gaddafi.

The Liberian-registered tanker Equator sailed from the port,
near Tobruk, on Wednesday, apparently with the first cargo of
crude sold by rebels since their uprising began in February.

A rebel spokesman had said Gaddafi artillery hit rebel-held
oilfields in Misla and the Waha area on Tuesday and Wednesday,
halting production.

No one on the rebel side was immediately available for
comment on the latest allegations from Tripoli, which insisted
the oil fields were under its control.

The rebels regained ground around the oil port of Brega on
Wednesday but repeated accusations NATO was not doing enough to
help them as Gaddafi’s forces unleashed yet more mortar rounds,
tank fire and artillery shells on the western city of Misrata.

A French minister said NATO air strikes in Libya risked
getting “bogged down” and a top U.S. official warned U.S.
lawmakers Libyan agents could be inside the United States and
might try to launch retaliatory attacks.

“We want to make certain that we’ve identified these
individuals to ensure no harm comes from them, knowing they may
well have been associated with the Gaddafi regime,” FBI Director
Robert Mueller said.

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More on Middle East unrest: [nTOPMEAST] [nLDE71O2CH]

Libya Graphics http://link.reuters.com/neg68r

Interactive graphic http://link.reuters.com/puk87r

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Gaddafi himself appealed for a halt in the air campaign in a
rambling three-page letter to U.S. President Barack Obama
bluntly dismissed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Mr. Gaddafi knows what he must do,” Clinton told a news
conference with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini,
reiterating calls for a ceasefire, the withdrawal of his forces
from cities they have stormed and his departure from Libya.

Misrata, Libya’s third city, rose up with other towns
against Muammar Gaddafi’s rule in mid-February, and is now under
siege by government troops after a violent crackdown put an end
to most protests elsewhere in the west of the country.

Rebels who control eastern Libya are angry at what they
perceive to be a scaling back of operations since NATO took over
an air campaign, after an early onslaught led by the United
States, France and Britain tilted the war in their favour.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Gaddafi forces were
making it harder for alliance pilots to distinguish them from
civilians by hunkering down in populated areas. “The situation
is unclear. There is a risk of getting bogged down,” he said.

Juppe told France Info radio he would address the issue of
tactics shortly with the head of NATO, adding Misrata’s ordeal
“cannot go on”. NATO has accused Gaddafi of using human shields
to make targeting harder for its warplanes.

Civil war in the vast North African desert oil producer
ignited in February when Gaddafi tried to crush pro-democracy
rallies against his 41-year rule inspired by uprisings that have
toppled or endangered other autocrats across the Arab world.

The head of Libya’s rebel army has condemned NATO for its
slowness in ordering air strikes to protect civilians, saying
the alliance was “letting the people of Misrata die every day”.

Juppe said: “We’ve formally requested that there be no
collateral damage for the civilian population … That obviously
makes operations more difficult.”

But General Abdel Fattah Younes was adamant that Gaddafi was
conducting massacres. “Day by day people are dying. Hundreds of
families are being wiped off the face of the earth. Patience has
its limits,” he said.

Asked whether he found NATO’s argument that it is trying to
prevent civilian casualties convincing he said:

“No, it’s not convincing at all. NATO has other means. I
requested there be combat helicopters like Apaches and Tigers.
These damage tanks and armoured vehicles with exact precision
without harming civilians.”

NATO ON THE DEFENSIVE

Libyan officials deny attacking civilians in Misrata, saying
they are fighting armed gangs linked to al Qaeda. Accounts from
Misrata cannot be independently verified as Libyan authorities
are not allowing journalists to report freely from there.

Rebel criticism has put the Western military alliance on the
defensive, particularly over Misrata. Spokeswoman Carmen Romero
said that “the pace of our operations continues unabated. The
ambition and the position of our strikes has not changed”.

NATO air strikes are targeting Gaddafi’s military
infrastructure but only to protect civilians, not to provide
close air support for rebels, much to their dismay, as part of a
no-fly zone mandated by the U.N. Security Council.

Relieving the siege of Misrata was a NATO priority but
alliance officials conceded that Gaddafi’s army was proving a
resourceful and elusive target.

“The situation on the ground is constantly evolving.
Gaddafi’s forces are changing tactics, using civilian vehicles,
hiding tanks in cities such as Misrata and using human shields
to hide behind,” Romero told reporters in Brussels.

Misrata on Wednesday faced another heavy bombardment.

“There was firing on three fronts today, the port in the
east, the centre around Tripoli street and the west of the city.
Mortars, tank fire, and artillery were used to shell those
areas,” rebel Abdelsalam said by telephone.

“NATO needs to either launch a serious operation to take out
all the heavy armoured vehicles, including tanks … If they
don’t want to do this, they should provide us with weapons to do
it ourselves.”

Meanwhile, living conditions in Misrata worsened.

“People are panicking, especially women, children and old
people. Most people left their homes for safer areas and found
refuge with other families,” Abdelsalam said, adding:

“No fruit and vegetables have been available in Misrata for
over 25 days, bread is also difficult to find. People are scared
to go out because of the snipers and the indiscriminate
shelling. The upper-hand is still with Gaddafi’s forces.”
(Additional reporting by Brian Love and Nick Vinocur in Paris,
Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, Simon
Cameron-Moore in Ankara, Angus Macswan in Benghazi, Tim Castle,
Joseph Nasr, Mariam Karouny and Marie-Louise Gumuchian; writing
by Peter Millership and Philippa Fletcher; editing by Jeremy
Laurence)

WRAPUP 3-Rebels say Gaddafi halts oil, Libya blames Britain