Libyan rebels ask NATO to keep up pressure

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TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libyan rebel leaders asked NATO on Monday to keep up pressure on elements of Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s regime and to protect those struggling to restore electricity and water to the battle-scarred capital of Tripoli.

National Transitional Council head Mustafa Abdul-Jalil told senior NATO envoys meeting in the Gulf Arab nation of Qatar that Col. Gadhafi, who has been in hiding since rebels captured Tripoli a week ago, can still cause trouble.

Despite effectively ending his rule, the rebels have yet to find Col. Gadhafi or his family members — something that has cast a pall of lingering uncertainty over the opposition’s victory.

Gadhafi is still capable of doing something awful in the last moments,” Mr.  Abdul-Jalil told military chiefs of staff and other key defense officials from NATO nations including France, Italy and Turkey.

“Even after the fighting ends, we still need logistical and military support from NATO,” he added. NATO has been bombing Col. Gadhafi’s forces since March under a United Nations mandate to protect Libyan civilians.

Rebels appear to have secured the capital after a week of fierce fighting in which they captured Col. Gadhafi’s compound and then cleared loyalists holed up in the residential neighborhood of Abu Salim nearby.

In Tripoli on Monday, the brother of the Libyan man convicted in the Lockerbie bombing said Abdel Baset al-Megrahi should not be returned to prison in the West because he is “between life and death” at his family’s home in the capital.

New York senators on Aug. 22 asked the Libyan rebels’ transitional government to hold al-Megrahi fully accountable for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 270 people. Rebel leaders have said they will not extradite him.

The Scottish government released al-Megrahi in 2009, believing he soon would die of cancer. He was greeted as a hero in Libya.

Outside Tripoli, Col. Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte is still a bastion of support, and some even have speculated that the ousted leader himself may have fled there. Rebels have been converging from the east and west on Sirte, 250 miles east of Tripoli, preparing to battle Gadhafi loyalists.

A NATO officer who could not be identified because of alliance rules spoke of fighting 30 miles east of Sirte. He said the regions of Sirte, Bani Walid south of Misrata and Sebha further south are conflict areas where both anti-Gadhafi and pro-Gadhafi forces continue to operate.

However, no fighting in Sirte itself has been reported yet, and rebel leaders said they are trying to negotiate a peaceful surrender with local tribes to avoid further bloodshed.

Rebels say they want to take Col. Gadhafi alive so they can try him in Libya.

“We hope that Gadhafi is still in Libya so we can rid the world of this insect,” rebel military spokesman Ahmed Bani said. “The only way to treat this pest is to make him accountable for the crimes in Libya.”

In Tripoli, members of the National Transitional Council announced further steps to becoming an effective government. Suleiman Mahmoud al-Obeidi, the rebels’ deputy military chief, announced the formation of a 17-member committee to represent the 30 or local military councils he said had been set up in the country’s west.

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