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Libyan Forces Clash As AU Tries To Intercede

LIANE HANSEN, host:

More battles are being fought in Libya today and there's a diplomatic effort to stop them. An African delegation has arrived to try to broker a cease-fire agreement. Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi continue to clash with rebels in the western city of Misrata and in the eastern city of Ajdabiya.

NPR's Peter Kenyon is a few miles east of Ajdabiya and he joins us. Hey, Peter.

PETER KENYON: Hi, Liane.

HANSEN: What's the latest news from the east, rebel-controlled?

KENYON: Well, we traveled this morning to a rebel-controlled checkpoint near the eastern gate of Ajdabiya. The drive down from Benghazi I must say was quite lonely. Most of the traffic was headed back the other way. The rebels we found said pro-Gadhafi forces had attacked Ajdabiya from two directions yesterday, driving them out. Then the rebels regrouped, re-entered the city and fighting continued through the night.

This morning, the battle was once again engaged. From our vantage point we could hear the thuds of artillery shells, we could see black clouds of smoke rising from the direction of the city.

A doctor wanting to deal with casualties said there was still a skeleton crew at the Ajdabiya Hospital, but the electricity had been cut last night so conditions were increasingly difficult. The civilian population of Ajdabiya has almost entirely fled, which leaves an empty city as the last stop between pro-government forces and the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

HANSEN: To the west, the city of Misrata has been under attack by pro-Gadhafi forces for some time. What do you know about the situation there?

KENYON: Well, we're hearing that an aid ship got into Misrata. Aid workers were describing desperate conditions in Libya's third-largest city. It's been under constant attack by pro-government forces. It's been isolated in the largely Gadhafi-controlled western part of the country.

Rebel fighters gave varying numbers as to casualties. Some counts reached as high as 30 fatalities on the rebel side yesterday. There were also reports of a number of airstrikes around Misrata, which the rebels welcomed. But clearly, cities like Misrata and Zawia are facing dire circumstances, urgently in need of aid.

HANSEN: And very briefly, what kind of reception can South African President Jacob Zuma and his delegation from the African Union expect?

KENYON: Well, I haven't had any access to Libyan government officials. But the Gadhafi regime has been calling for dialogue and welcoming international efforts in that regard. A rebel spokesman yesterday was a bit cooler towards the African Union effort. He said the delegation will be received with respect; they'll listen to all proposals, but they have always said that no dialogue can start as long as Gadhafi is still in power.

There is growing concern however that the rebel forces simply aren't strong enough to push to the west, even with this no-fly zone in place. And that raises the prospect of an extended stalemate, further casualties and which makes the prospect of a ceasefire are all the more attractive.

HANSEN: NPR's Peter Kenyon reporting from eastern Libya. Peter, thank you.

KENYON: You're welcome, Liane. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.