Libyan rebels are receiving reports that female snipers from Colombia have joined other mercenaries fighting to keep dictator Moammar Gadhafi in power.
No Colombians have been captured or killed, but rebels this week said they have received accounts of their deadly marksmanship from pro-Gadhafi prisoners and from eyewitnesses in the besieged city Misurata, the largest city in western Libya still under partial rebel control.
Rebel sources said the Colombians are part of a wider force of snipers firing from vantage points atop buildings in Misurata.
“They are shooting to kill,” said Khalid, a doctor in Misurata who gave only his first name. He said most of the injured have head, chest and neck wounds.
The account of the female warriors from Colombia came this week as rebels identified a host of foreigners fighting for the Gadhafi regime or supplying the dictator with valuable material. Mercenaries are paid up to $1,000 a day, according to some reports.
The rebels said they have captured Algerian mercenaries and claim that the authoritarian government of Belarus has sent more than 100 military advisers to help Col. Gadhafi. They said the regime also has received aid from supporters in Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Ukraine.
Algerian and Belarusian officials have denied the rebels’ allegations. Officials with other governments cited by the rebels could not be reached for comment.
A U.S. official, meanwhile, said he doubts that Col. Gadhafi is receiving significant foreign help.
“Gadhafi is basically on his own. He isn’t receiving much help - financial, military or otherwise - from his neighbors, even those deemed his friends,” the U.S. official said on the condition of anonymity.
However, two Western officials who spoke on background said the mercenaries are likely fighting because of their own individual reasons and not at the behest of another country.
The presence of the South American mercenaries suggests that Col. Gadhafi could be recruiting fighters from the communist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by their Spanish initials, FARC.
FARC has long-standing ties to the Gadhafi regime, according to information found on the computers of Raul Reyes, a rebel commander killed by Colombian soldiers in 2008. One computer included a Sept. 4, 2000, letter to Col. Gadhafi, asking for a loan of $100 million to buy weapons.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said this month that it is “clear … that [FARC] still has connections to Gadhafi.”
“Libya even offered them $300 million. But we don’t know whether FARC actually received the money,” he said in an interview with Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine.
FARC also has highly trained female fighters capable of handling modern firearms, said Jaime Daremblum, a former Costa Rican ambassador to the United States who is director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Washington-based Hudson Institute.
The Libyan rebels said foreign supporters have supplied mercenaries, weapons and fuel to the Gadhafi regime since shortly after the uprising erupted two months ago.
They said they captured more than a dozen Algerian fighters last week in Ajdabiya, where pro-Gadhafi forces have waged a fierce battle to retake the eastern city. The prisoners are being held in the rebels’ de facto capital, Benghazi, in eastern Libya.
The rebels’ Interim National Transitional Council on Monday presented a visiting African Union delegation with evidence of Algerian involvement.
“The African Union delegation was told we have material evidence,” Guma el-Gamaty, coordinator for the rebels’ council in Britain, said in a phone interview with The Washington Times from London.
“We are definitely sure that the Algerian government, controlled by the army generals, is deliberately aiding Gadhafi because they don’t want the Libyan revolution to succeed,” he said.
Algeria leased five C-130s and five Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft to the Gadhafi regime, which used them to fly mercenaries from Libya’s neighbors, according to rebel sources.
Mohamed Soliman, who helped refugees along the Libya-Tunisia border, said in an interview from Vienna, Austria, that the Gadhafi regime has been transporting mercenaries across the Sahara Desert since the U.N. imposed a no-fly zone over Libya.
He said the regime has received vehicles from Algeria that can be mounted with heavy artillery.
The Algerian Embassy in Washington “categorically denies the allegations,” a spokeswoman said this week. Algeria was one of two countries in the Arab League to vote against a no-fly zone in Libya. Syria was the other.
Meanwhile, Andrey Savinykh, a spokesman for the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, last week denied that any Belarusian troops were in Libya.
This month, Kalzeubet Pahimi Deubet, a spokesman for the Chadian government, accused rebels of executing Chadian citizens after falsely accusing them of being mercenaries.
In a statement, the rebel council accused Chadian President Idriss Deby of sending thousands of his presidential guards to assist Col. Gadhafi’s forces in Az-Zawiya, Misurata, Ras Lanuf and Burayqah. The Chadian Embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.
The rebels also accuse the Gadhafi regime of getting support from as many as 150 Belarusian military advisers and pilots and receiving a shipment of arms from Ukraine delivered to Tripoli last week. They claimed Col. Gadhafi is also withdrawing money through agents in Dubai, Tunisia, Cyprus and Syria to buy fuel.
“These are the things we are sure about,” Mr. el-Gamaty said.
“If [Col. Gadhafi] is still getting fuel, arms and mercenaries, then the [United Nations Security Council] sanctions are not working. This will keep a lifeline for Gadhafi and will prolong the suffering,” he added.