- Associated Press - Sunday, September 4, 2011

TARHOUNA, Libya (AP) — Negotiations aimed at peacefully ending a standoff outside one of Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s remaining strongholds southeast of Tripoli have failed, and Libyan rebels were waiting for the green light to launch a final assault, an opposition spokesman said Sunday.

Abdullah Kanshil, who was one of the rebel negotiators, told reporters at a rebel checkpoint about 40 miles north of Bani Walid that talks had broken down after Col. Gadhafi’s chief spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, insisted the rebels disarm before entering the town.

The rebels have said the hard-core loyalists are a small minority inside Bani Walid but are heavily armed and stoking fear to keep other residents from surrendering.

“We feel sorry for the people of Bani Walid,” said Mr. Kanshil, himself a Bani Walid native. “We hope for the best for our city.”

He said Mr. Ibrahim was inside the city with other regime loyalists and heavily armed supporters.

The claim could not be verified, and rebel officials have given conflicting statements about the situation in Bani Walid after giving residents there and in other areas that remain loyal to Col. Gadhafi a Saturday deadline to surrender or face an attack.

Rebel forces control most of the oil-rich North African nation and already are setting up a new government, but Col. Gadhafi and his staunchest allies remain on the run and enjoy support in several central and southern areas.

NATO, meanwhile, reported bombing a military barracks, a police camp and several other targets near the southern stronghold of Sirte overnight, as well as targets near Hun, a possible staging ground in the desert halfway between Sirte and Sabha. It also reported bombing an ammunition storage facility near Bani Walid. Sirte is Col. Gadhafi’s hometown.

NATO has been bombing Col. Gadhafi’s forces since March under a U.N. mandate to protect Libyan civilians. But that mandate expires Sept. 27, and the rebels may be eager to end the fight before it runs out, since it may be politically difficult to get it renewed.

Thousands of rebel fighters have converged on Bani Walid in recent days, with some just 10 miles from the town center.

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