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There was some fighting Monday on the eastern and western approaches to Sirte. Some have speculated that Gadhafi and other senior regime figures may have fled there.

A NATO officer, who asked not to be identified because of alliance rules, said there was fighting 30 miles (50 kilometers) east of Sirte. He said there are still clashes around Sirte, Bani Walid south of Misrata and Sebha further south.

Taking Sirte will mean getting past entrances that are reportedly mined and an elite military unit. Gadhafi’s tribe is the most powerful in the city. Libyans familiar with the coastal city on which Gadhafi has lavished building projects say its first line of defense is a heavily fortified area called the al-Wadi al-Ahmar, 55 miles (90 kilometers) to the east.

The rebels asked NATO Monday to keep up pressure on remnants of Gadhafi’s regime.

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

In other developments, the chairman of the African Union on Monday accused Libyan rebels of indiscriminately killing black people because they have confused innocent migrant workers with Gadhafi’s mercenaries. Jean Ping, speaking to reporters in Ethiopia, added this is one of the reasons the AU is refusing to recognize the National Transitional Council as Libya’s interim government.

Ping charges are much stronger than any that have been levied at the rebels by international rights groups. The groups have, however, expressed concern about beatings and detentions of immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa.

Gadhafi had recruited fighters from further south on the continent, but many sub-Saharan Africans are in the country as laborers.

National Transitional Council spokesman Abdel-Hafiz Ghoga denied the AU claims.

“These allegations have been made during the early days of the revolution. This never took place.”

African leaders’ skepticism about the rebels has led to questions about those who received money and arms from Gadhafi in past decades were now repaying him with support. African leaders have insisted they simply do not support regime change by force.

Survivors and human rights groups have said Gadhafi loyalists retreating from Tripoli after decades of brutal rule killed scores of detainees and arbitrarily shot civilians over the past week.

Council spokesman Ghoga said his representatives have collected names in cities rebels have liberated, resulting in a list of some 50,000 people rounded up by the Gadhafi regime since the uprising began six months ago. He said rebels freed 10,000 from prisons, leaving at least 40,000 unaccounted for.

In the capital, 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.

The war was fought by disparate, local groups with only loose coordination. Bringing all local councils and rebel brigades under the council’s leadership remains a challenge.

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