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Libya gains control of more rebel territory

TRIPOLI, Libya — Libya's government said it had taken over the oil terminal of Brega on Sunday and would press eastward to the rebels' self-styled capital of Benghazi, as Western diplomats remained mixed over intervention in the Libyan crisis.

The takeover of Brega came three days after a similar capture of Ras Lanouf, another oil port 77 miles farther west, following heavy bombardment.

"Brega has been liberated," said Col. Milad Hussein, a Libyan army spokesman, adding that he did not anticipate a tough battle in Benghazi. He said the government hopes to resolve the crisis "through reconciliation" with tribal leaders in eastern Libya, but he added that the rebel movement is not proving to be a potent adversary.

"To deal with them you don't need full-scale military action," the Libyan spokesman said. "They are groups of people who, when you come to them, they just raise their hands and go. It's not a war against another country."

Abdul Fattah Younis, chief of staff of the rebel army and former interior minister in Moammar Gadhafi's government, told reporters that rebel forces conducted a strategic retreat from Brega. And he vowed to protect the town of Ajdabiya, the next rebel-held town to the east, 49 miles from Brega.

The government's announcement came as world leaders debated the merits of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent airstrikes by Gadhafi forces.

The Arab League on Saturday endorsed the idea, which is to be discussed by NATO representatives this week. France supports the plan and has officially recognized the opposition government.

But the United States has shied away from a position, apparently fearful of an anti-American backlash if it becomes involved in military action in another Muslim country in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton plans to meet with Libyan opposition leaders in Paris today.

Supporters of a no-fly zone fear it may come too late to be useful. The area around Benghazi, the center of rebel command, appeared increasingly unstable over the weekend.

On Saturday, an Al-Jazeera cameraman was fatally shot in an apparent ambush outside the city, according to the network, the first report of a journalist killed in Libya since the conflict began.

Opposition strongholds across Libya have been shelled to rubble in recent days, including the western town of Zawiya, where witnesses, in phone conversations, described massive destruction before disappearing from contact.

A similar fate appeared to threaten Misrata, Libya's third-largest city and the only one outside the east still under rebel control and surrounded by government forces.

There was word of dissent within government forces there Saturday and Sunday, with the sound of heavy clashes coming from 10 miles or so outside the city for two nights in a row, one witness said.

"According to what we know, these were internal clashes within the Khamis Brigade between Gadhafi loyalists and those who have shifted their alliance to the rebels," said Misrata resident Mohamad Sanusi, 42, by phone Sunday.

Sanusi said he had heard that "there is a senior officer that is heading this group that's engaged in a mutiny. They did not join the rebels, but they have said that they refuse to attack the civilians."

Hussein, the army spokesman, denied a Reuters report that some soldiers had defected to the rebel side.

"These people are trained and they believe in Brother Moammar Gadhafi, and they won't leave him for these gangs," he said. "It is not true information."

He acknowledged, however, that rebels still control the town.

Libya gains control of more rebel territory 03/13/11 [Last modified: Monday, March 14, 2011 12:51am]

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