(Updates with report on fighting starting in first paragraph.)
Oct. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Libyan forces are combing homes in Sirte for Muammar Qaddafi supporters, after seizing key buildings in the former leader’s hometown in clashes that left scores dead and wounded.
Anti-Qaddafi fighters from the western city of Misrata gained control of Ouagadougou Hall, a walled complex used by Qaddafi loyalists as a base, and the city’s main Ibn Sina hospital, the Misrata Military Council said in statements late yesterday. The Ibn Sina morgue was found full of bodies, some bearing name tags, others not, the council said, describing the humanitarian situation in the hospital as dire.
The fighters from Misrata are collaborating with the armed forces loyal to Libya’s new National Transitional Council, though their command structures haven’t been integrated. The NTC’s forces advanced from the east to the center of Sirte, ending fighting that began when negotiations on the port city’s peaceful surrender broke down early last month.
Sirte, about 300 miles (483 kilometers) east of the capital, Tripoli, linking the east and western part of the country, is one of the last major strongholds of Qaddafi loyalists. Its fall is a key step in Libya’s transition to democracy as a new government to see the country through to elections won’t be announced until a month after it is fully under NTC control.
Senior officials on the NTC, which seized Tripoli at the end of August, attribute the tenacity of the Qaddafi loyalists in Sirte to the possibility that one of the former leader’s son, Mutassim, is there. They say the loyalists fear retaliation, and that they have given assurances this won’t happen, and halted the offensive several times to allow civilians to leave.
Mutassim may have been hiding in the Ibn Sina Hospital, preventing foreign medical workers from leaving, according to the Misrata council. There was no indication of where he is now.
The United Nations special representative in Libya, Ian Martin, appealed on Oct. 7 to all Libyans to respect calls made by the NTC “that there should be no revenge even against those responsible for war crimes and other grave violations.”
Qaddafi supporters also hold Bani Walid, a landlocked town where NTC forces say more senior loyalists are hiding, including Saif al-Islam, another of Qaddafi’s sons and his presumed heir. The NTC says it will declare “liberation” only after Sirte’s capture because then it will hold all of the country’s ports and harbors.
--Editors: Andrew J. Barden, Ben Holland, Karl Maier.
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