Fighting flares anew in western Libyan town
WADI DINAR, Libya (AP) -- New fighting flared in a hilltop town in Libya on Tuesday between fighters defending Bani Walid, a stronghold of slain dictator Moammar Gadhafi's regime and pro-government militias trying to win control.
A military spokesman, Gen. Ali al-Shekhili, said there is still some resistance, but the pro-government forces have made significant advances toward the center of the town. Large numbers of residents have fled over the past few days, he said.
The violence in Bani Walid coincided with celebrations of the anniversary of the declaration of liberation of Libya from Gadhafi's dictatorship after an eight-month civil war.
A year later, Libya is still fractured by rival militias, tribes and armed backers of the old regime, and the government is struggling to impose its authority.
There was a brief lull in the fighting on Monday.
On Tuesday, snipers took over tall buildings in the center of Bani Walid, some 140 kilometers (90 miles) southeast of Tripoli, firing at pro-government militias on the town's outskirts.
The Libyan government's move to take control of Bani Walid came in the aftermath of the kidnapping, torturing and killing last month of an anti-Gadhafi fighter by Bani Walid forces.
The country's newly elected National General Council issued a decree to arrest the men behind the killing. Efforts for a peaceful resolution through negotiations with the town's elders failed.
An AP reporter at the outskirts of the town saw doctors and nurses fleeing. A Bangladeshi doctor, who refused to give his name for fear of retribution, said that the main hospital is not functioning, with no electricity and no medical supplies. Foreign workers were seen walking 20 kilometers (12 miles) to escape the gunfire.
As night fell, commander Muftah Abu-Lefa of Libya Shield, a militia under Defense Ministry control, told The Associated Press that his forces reached the hospital, and clashes had ceased for the time being.
Farid Moammar, another Libya Shield commander, accused fighters of Bani Walid of using residents as human shields and hostages to prevent the pro-government militias from advancing into the town.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)