Rebels say Khadafy boobytraps oil port
MADRID - Libyan ruler Moammar Khadafy’s troops have boobytrapped petroleum installations in the strategic oil port of Brega so they can be blown up if his regime loses the town, a top rebel official said yesterday.
Mahmoud Jibril, the rebels’ diplomatic chief, said that Khadafy’s forces have also boobytrapped oil fields. He did not state which fields. While Brega is a key oil processing and shipment hub, the fields that feed it lie far to the south in the Libyan desert.
“Unfortunately, Brega is a big minefield right now,’’ Jibril told reporters after meeting with Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez of Spain. “We discovered that they planted mines all over the place. Even some oil establishments, some oil fields, have been full of bombs, explosives.’’
Rebels and pro-Khadafy forces have been locked in a stalemate, despite a NATO air campaign against Khadafy’s forces. Rebels hold most of eastern Libya, but their push to seize Brega unraveled Tuesday when 27 rebels were killed in shelling by Khadafy’s troops.
With the NATO-led air campaign entering its fifth month, Britain’s military reported its first death related to the campaign after an airman died in a traffic accident in southern Italy. The Ministry of Defense said yesterday that an airman from the Royal Air Force’s No. 2 Squadron died in the Abruzzo region when his vehicle went off the road.
Rebel forces have pulled back from Brega amid hopes that Khadafy’s forces will surrender, and Jibril said rebel fighters “are circulating Brega from all fronts right now.’’
Rebel commanders have said that mine fields laid by Khadafy’s troops have hampered their advance.
Mohammed Idris, a Libyan medic, said a mine killed one rebel and injured four others yesterday.
The Libyan government had no immediate comment on the rebel accusations, but spokesman Moussa Ibrahim sounded a defiant note Monday about the oil city.
“We will turn Brega into hell,’’ Ibrahim said. “We will not give Brega up even if it causes the death of thousands of rebels and the destruction of the city.’’
Jibril said the boobytrapping of oil facilities and fields is a signal that Khadafy’s regime fears that it cannot hold Brega much longer “and the only course they have embarked on is to destroy everything.’’
Jibril also said that Libya’s National Transitional Council wants foreign firms like Spanish energy company Repsol SA, which abandoned the country when fighting broke out, to return and rebuild their damaged installations and to allow Spain’s government to deduct those costs from the frozen assets.
Last week’s recognition of the council as Libya’s legitimate government will potentially free up tens of billions of dollars in cash from frozen Libyan assets that the rebels desperately need, but Jimenez suggested that assets in Spain will not be immediately released.
Instead, she said Spanish officials and Libyan opposition officials will meet soon to determine whether the assets in Spain could be used as collateral to provide the rebels with credit.
Jibril visited Spain a day after France’s foreign minister suggested that a possible way out of Libya’s civil war would be to allow Khadafy to stay in the country if he relinquishes power.