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Libyan rebels send brigade to negotiate surrender of Sirte

After taking the oil towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf, Libyan rebels are trying to persuade Sirte residents to lay down their arms. The city, Qaddafi's hometown, is one of the regime's last holdouts.

By Correspondent / August 26, 2011

A rebel fighter reloads ammunition belts at Tripoli International Airport outside Friday. British warplanes struck a large bunker Friday in Muammar Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte, his largest remaining stronghold, as NATO turned its attention to loyalist forces trying to hold back advancing Libyan rebels in the area.

Sergey Ponomarev/AP

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Brega and Benghazi, Libya

As Libyan rebels fight for the last remaining pockets of Tripoli still in the hands of Qaddafi loyalists, their eastern comrades are negotiating for a handover of Sirte – Qaddafi's hometown and one of the last cities held by his supporters.

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A brigade of rebel fighters originally from Sirte was sent to negotiate with tribal elders to persuade the town to lay down its arms and avoid a bloody battle.

“These are sons talking to their fathers,” says rebel fighter Bashir Budufira, leader of the Ajdabiyah Martyrs Brigade.

“I think 75 percent of the people there want a peaceful solution, but there are some people from Qaddafi’s tribe and they’re not going to surrender," he adds. "They have committed murder, so they’re afraid they’re going to be punished if they give up.”

If rebels manage a takeover of Sirte, it will cap an impressive advance westward from the eastern city of Benghazi that saw key victories in the oil towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf.

The road leading west from Brega is full of holes from bombardments, and littered with burned out tanks, overturned cars, and discarded boxes that held rockets and ammunition, the signs of the rebels' push east.

Victory in Brega, Ras Lanuf

Rebel fighters who have just returned from the front lines describe how they finally dislodged Qaddafi’s forces from the strategic oil town of Brega after months of stalemate, the rebel advance impeded by the landmines laid by Qaddafi forces and a desire to protect oil infrastructure.

The rebels describe their surprise attack, and then a tactical retreat by Qaddafi’s forces. Over the span of several days, the soldiers loyal to the Libyan leader steadily pulled back toward the colonel’s hometown of Sirte, while bombarding the rebels with Grad rockets. The rebel fighters described finding uniforms abandoned in the streets of Ras Lanuf after they captured the town, and a civilian population suffering from food shortages and terrorized by Qaddafi’s soldiers.

Ras Lanuf citizens also told the rebels of infighting within Qaddafi’s troops, who were mostly soldiers from the feared Khamis Brigade led by one of his sons, but also included other military units and civilian volunteers. Some of the prisoners they captured said they had been forced to fight.

Rebel morale high

Rebel morale has soared in recent days as Qaddafi’s forces retreat further and further, even as the rebels sustained significant casualties from the rockets.

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