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No Victory In Misurata Despite Gadhafi's Claims


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

Some of the most brutal fighting taking place in Libya is happening in the besieged western city of Misrata. There're reports that forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi are deliberately targeting civilians there. The Libyan government denies that and says it controls most of the area.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro was taken on a government-sponsored trip to Misrata yesterday and saw a city thats still being fiercely contested.

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: On the bus ride to Misrata, prayers for the safety of Libya and the destruction of NATO forces played out on loudspeakers. Divide their ranks and bring down their planes, the prayers intoned. But clearly, more than divine intervention is needed to stop the military intervention that is currently underway here. Over the past week, NATO has shifted its focus to Misrata, the last city in Western Libya to be in active revolt against Gadhafi.

The government here claims its observing a cease-fire and its only defending itself from attacks by rebels. It also says its only facing small pockets of resistance.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Im in Misrata and there is fierce fighting going on. The government has taken us again to try and show that it is in control of this city but that's far from the case. What were hearing is huge gun battles taking place, tank fire, mortar fire, machine gun rounds. The battle for Misrata is far from over.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This area of Misrata, about a mile from the center of the city, is a ghost town. The buildings are peppered with shrapnel. Gadhafi troops taking shelter inside them and on rooftops. Libyan soldiers are moving around the city now in civilian vehicles - mainly in four by fours and pickup trucks -trying to disguise themselves to avoid aerial attacks.

One captain boasted to reporters it would only take a few weeks to route the rebels. He went on to acknowledge that NATO airstrikes had damaged the Libyan Army's capability, but insisted that everything was under control.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A shot rang out and suddenly the captain clutched his head, blood pouring down his face. He was bundled into a car and taken to the hospital. The wound wasn't fatal but the very fact of it belied his confident words.

Come on. Lets go. Lets go.

Journalists dove for cover and then about 20 minutes after having gotten to Misrata, we were told to leave for our safety.

On the way back, we met up with a busload of diplomats. The ambassadors of the Philippines, Cuba and Venezuela, along with representatives of Serbia and Turkey had been promised that they would have lunch in the center of Misrata. Instead, they were taken to the site of a NATO airstrike, miles away from the city. The fact-finding trip they were supposedly on, not really illuminating them very much.

Unidentified Man: No. No. No, no, no. (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says they didnt let them go in because of (unintelligible).

The Venezuelan ambassador said it was a shame. We showed them video footage of what we had witnessed in the city that day, the closest they've gotten, they said, to seeing for themselves what is really happening in Misrata.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.