Libya: Qaddafi loses east to insurrection; “crimes against humanity” feared

Moammar Qaddafi’s regime has lost vast swathes of Libya’s east to insurrectionists, it became clear Feb. 23. Opponents of Qaddafi appear firmly in control of Libya’s coastal east, from the Egyptian border through to the cities of Tobruk and Benghazi, with government soldiers switching sides to join the uprising. Fighting has been reported near the capital, Tripoli.

A fighter pilot disobeyed orders to bomb the opposition stronghold of Benghazi and crashed his plane after he and his co-pilot ejected. The Russian-made Sukhoi 22 crashed near Ajdabiya, 160 kilometers west of the rebel-held city, according to Quryna newspaper. “Pilot Abdessalam Attiyah al-Abdali and co-pilot Ali Omar al-Kadhafi ejected with parachutes after refusing orders to bomb the city of Benghazi.”

The regime asserted it is still in control via a text message on the national mobile telephone network. “God give victory to our leader and the people,” the message said, promising a credit in cellphone time if it was forwarded to other mobile telephone users. The streets of Tripoli were flooded with thousands of troops and African mercenaries. Other than that it was mainly empty but for a few dozen Qaddafi supporters, despite his nationally televised call a day before for a show of mass support.

The regime says 300 people, including 111 soldiers, have been killed in the protests. Rights groups, however, have said the toll could be far higher. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said “systematic attacks against the civilian population may amount to crimes against humanity.” There have also been reports of captured African mercenaries being summarily executed by rebels in the east. (Middle East Online, The Telegraph, BBC World Service, Feb. 23; Jurist, Feb. 22)

See our last posts on Libya.

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