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Libyan rebels take prime minister's hometown

28 August, 2011

Libyan rebels are seen in a vehicle near the entrance of Ras Lanuf oil field.
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JMAYL, LONDON, BENGHAZI: Libyan rebels swept into the town of Jmayl on Saturday, consolidating their grip on areas to the west of Tripoli after forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi fled the home base of Libya's prime minister.

After a five-day standoff with Gaddafi loyalists in the town, about 100 rebels in pick-up trucks drove in, firing their guns wildly in the air in celebration and flashing V-for-victory signs.

"We were in Zuwarah and we have been trying to get here for five days," Shukri Zuwareh, a 42-year-old fighter, told Reuters, referring to a nearby town already in rebel hands.

Gaddafi supporters are understood to have fled to the town as rebel forces rolled up areas to the south in Libya's Western Mountains in a campaign that eventually took them all the way to Tripoli.

The two sides had been negotiating for days in an attempt to end the stand-off over Jmayl and arrange prisoner swaps, but talks had foundered in an atmosphere of mistrust. "There were soldiers in the town and supporters of Gaddafi. We spread a rumour three days ago during the talks that we would free Jmayl today," Zuwareh said.

Rebels said Jmayl had been a stronghold for Gaddafi loyalists in the west and was the hometown of Libyan prime minister Al Baghdadi Ali al Mahmoudi, who recently left the country and was seen five days ago on the southern Tunisian island of Djerba. At the town hospital, two wounded rebel fighters were brought in for treatment, along with one man who had been held prisoner by the Gaddafi forces before they left. Libya's rebels have no concrete information on the location of Muammar Gaddafi or his sons, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, chairman of the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC), said on Saturday. Rebel fighters who took control of the Libyan capital this week say Gaddafi and his sons are in hiding and have offered a $1.3 million reward and amnesty from prosecution for anyone who kills or captures him.

"We have no factual report about the whereabouts of Gaddafi and his sons," Abdel Jalil said. Speaking at a news conference, he said the council might consider inviting police officers from Arab or Muslim states to Libya to held with security, but did not want a police presence from any other nations.

He also said that anyone who had worked in a senior position for Gaddafi and had not defected by now to the rebel cause will not be allowed to have a place in the future Libya, politically speaking.

Rebel commanders are still negotiating with Gaddafi loyalists to try to persuade them to surrender control over the city of Sirte, Gaddafi's home town about 500 km east of Tripoli, Abdel Jalil said.

"There is a possibility he is still in the Tripoli area. But if not he's more likely to be near the Algerian border because Algeria has still not recognised the NTC," said the spokesman, Shamsiddin Abdulmolah.

The rebel council is under pressure to establish its authority in Tripoli quickly and deal with a breakdown of public services that followed the collapse of Gaddafi's rule. Corpses are rotting outside hospitals, garbage is piled up in the streets, and many people have no water.

Asked when the NTC would move to the capital from its base in Benghazi, eastern Libya, Abdulmolah said, "Most of the executive committee is already over there now in Tripoli.

But he said the question of when Abdel Jalil, a former justice minister under Gaddafi, would transfer to Tripoli, would depend on security considerations.

The charred remains of around 53 people have been found in a warehouse in the Libyan capital Tripoli, apparently opponents of Muammar Gaddafi who were executed as his rule collapsed, Britain's Sky News reported on Saturday.

Sky broadcast pictures of a heap of burned skeletons, still smouldering, in an agricultural warehouse in southern Tripoli, where the victims were apparently prisoners. One unidentified man told Sky he was a survivor, a former prisoner who had escaped.

"About 10 to 11 people tried to escape," he said. "This place was for executing the people who are refusing to kill the other people, the civilian people," he said.

End.

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