The fight for Libya

Reuters reports:

Muammar Gaddafi’s fearsome security apparatus appears to be weakening in Tripoli, but it is still too powerful to risk an uprising — that is the view of Libyans who say they are part of a burgeoning underground opposition network in the capital.

The handful of activists, who spoke to Reuters journalists on condition that neither their identities nor the location of the meeting be revealed, said Gaddafi was keeping control of the city through informants, mass arrests and killings.

“No single event will bring down the regime here in Tripoli,” said one activist who goes by the name of Niz.

“And it will take time,” he added, saying more NATO bombing, a push by Libyan rebels outside the city and better coordination of the opposition inside the capital would probably be needed.

Yet Niz and others also spoke of a system of repression that was showing signs of strain, with a shortage of places to hold detainees, interrogators who do not know what questions to ask and people arrested and then released apparently at random.

That Reuters foreign journalists staying at a tightly monitored hotel were able to slip away from government minders to meet people who said they represented active opposition cells was itself a sign of disarray in the decades-old security system — a disarray NATO is counting to bring Gaddafi down eventually.

Four activists from two different opposition movements — groups which have maintained contact with foreign media for the past few months — gave an account of what they thought it would take for Gaddafi’s grip on his Tripoli stronghold to be broken.

It was an assessment that will be sobering for those in Western capitals, and in the rebel-held Libyan cities of Benghazi and Misrata, who have been hoping for a swift end to the four-month old conflict.

An uprising in Tripoli is seen by some NATO member states as the best bet for toppling the Libyan ruler after months of coalition air strikes, and rebel attacks outside the capital, failed to produce a decisive outcome.

“The rebels don’t really have a chance of breaking out from the east, making their way to Tripoli,” said Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute in London. “It will rely on some sort of urban uprising within the city itself.”

Niz said outsiders, and the eastern rebels, should be patient if they were were waiting for Tripolitanians to rise up:

“Four months is a long time for those being shelled,” he said of those under siege in Misrata and elsewhere. “It’s a long time for those being raped or tortured,” he added.

“But, objectively, it’s not a long time when you consider the regime has been in power for 42 years.”

The New York Times reports:

Until a few weeks ago, the rebellious towns in the Nafusah Mountains were struggling to survive on dwindling supplies of barley, water and gas during a long siege by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s soldiers.

But after an improbable series of military victories over the past three weeks — with fewer than 100 rebel fighters killed, their military leaders say — residents of a broad area in this mountain region are celebrating virtual secession from Colonel Qaddafi’s Libya. While there have been defeats, and the Grad rockets of Colonel Qaddafi’s forces still menace the outskirts of Nalut near the Tunisian border and Yafran to the east, rebels point hopefully to the growing stability of the towns under their control as evidence of how tenuous Colonel Qaddafi’s grip may be.

“This is the new Libya,” said Anwar Fekini, a Sorbonne-educated French-Libyan lawyer, rebel organizer and local tribal leader who returned for a weekend trip to his ancestral home to strategize with local allies. “It feels good.”

He delicately accepted an aging Belgian rifle from two gray-haired rebel fighters, just for safekeeping.

The Nafusah Mountains have emerged as a strategically significant front in the battle for Libya, in part because the rebels there are closest to Colonel Qaddafi’s stronghold in the capital, Tripoli, and in part because they have the potential to cut off vital supply lines from the border. And though barely trained and few in number — one rebel leader estimated that there were about 2,000 armed fighters — they have used their knowledge of the terrain and the sympathies of much of the local population to expand their territory as the fighting around Benghazi to the east and Misurata on the central coast has moved toward a stalemate.

Reuters reports:

France is providing weapons to Libyan rebels in the Western Mountains in an effort to help them push on to Muammar Gaddafi’s stronghold in the Libyan capital Tripoli, Le Figaro newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Citing unidentified sources, Le Figaro said France had parachuted “large amounts” of weapons, including rocket launchers, assault rifles, machine guns and anti-tank missiles into the Jebel Nafusa region.

The decision to send arms without consulting its NATO partners was “because there was no other way to proceed,” a senior source was quoted as saying.

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