Sat March 5, 2011

In Libya, The Fight For Ras Lanuf



This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Today we're following reports of heavy fighting in key towns in the east and the west of Libya. In the western Libyan town of Zawiyah forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi have reasserted control during fierce fighting against anti-government rebels. The attack by Gadhafi's military could be vital to the regime's defense to the nearby capital city of Tripoli. And in the east, rebels say they have taken control of Ras Lanuf, a major oil depot along the coast.

We're covering developments in Libya throughout today's program. Coming up, we learn more about Libya's divided military and the equipment that Gadhafi's forces have at their disposal.

First, we go to NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro. She's in Ras Lanuf and we reached her on her mobile phone.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ras Lanuf, we are hearing from the people here, was basically, they say, liberated last night from the control of Gadhafi forces. A group of the rebel army came in in the afternoon and the fighting was fierce but brief. Within a few hours, the rebel forces actually took the city where I am standing now, which has a very large refinery, and basically have it under their control. And the rebel army is now on the move.

I mean, if you think about this, Scott, they have taken two towns in the space of a few days and it seems like they're having a great deal of success against Gadhafi's forces.

SIMON: And is oil the principle thing that makes it such a strategic target, Ras Lanuf?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ras Lanuf, certainly there's a very large refinery. I can see it in the distance. It's one of the largest refineries in Libya if not all of northern Africa. So, that makes it strategically important. But beyond that, I mean, there is just a battle for territory here. On the one hand, you have Gadhafi's forces trying to push back in the east trying to regain ground, because, of course, they're still holding fast in Tripoli. Gadhafi is still entrenched there.

And on the other hand, you have these rebel forces who are now basically on the march towards Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte. That is...

(Soundbite of gunshots)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Excuse me, they're firing in the air.

(Soundbite of gunshots)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Don't know if you can hear that. There's some firing in the air with some victory, celebratory fire. There is really a (unintelligible) feeling that they can take whatever Gadhafi throws at them and that they want to take his hometown and stronghold of Sirte.

SIMON: Lourdes, if you can hear me, there are reports on the wires of looting going on in the rouge oil operations, people helping themselves to trucks and equipment. Do you know anything about that?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'll tell you what I can see here: it's a very sort of lawless environment here. You have the rebel army that basically moved in, and they are the ones in control. There is no police. There is no sort of formal law enforcement here. And we have seen sort of trucks moving in and out.

What we did see this morning was ammunition that apparently the Gadhafi forces left behind in their retreat, and that has been taken in now by the rebel forces to resupply their forward operation toward Sirte.

SIMON: And your recap: The rebel army is still on the move.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What they're telling us is that the rebel army is on the move. We've seen convoys of them moving past Ras Lanuf off into the desert toward Sirte moving west. There is a real sense, they say, of momentum. They do feel that they've scored pretty impressive victories in short spaces of time and that they want to capitalize on that.

And Sirte has always been for them the thorn on their side if you will. It's Gadhafi's hometown, as I mentioned, it's his stronghold. It's very heavily reinforced. And they feel if they can take Sirte then sort of all of that (unintelligible) the rest of the country, the west, which they haven't been able to access until now.

SIMON: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Ras Lanuf. Thanks very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

Related Program