4:26pm

Sun April 10, 2011
Africa

African Union Arrives In Libya, Calls For Cease-Fire

In eastern Libya, anti-government rebels say NATO airstrikes helped them push pro-government forces out of a strategic city 100 miles from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. NATO warplanes also destroyed pro-government tanks shelling the Western city of Misrata.

As the fighting continues, a delegation from the African Union arrived in the Libyan capital Tripoli Sunday in search of a cease-fire agreement.

Outmatched In Terms Of Firepower

On Sunday morning, the drive from Benghazi toward Ajdabiya was virtually traffic-free, with most vehicles heading the other way. But as journalists stopped to check in with rebel fighters several miles short of the city, the traffic picked up. White pickups and other trucks loaded with fighters, light arms and mounted machine guns sped past, along with a few carrying rocket launchers and heavier weapons. A group of young men, some who looked barely into their teens, squatted under a tree wrestling with military rations from a box marked "Qatar military forces."

A somewhat older man named Adel — a car dealer before the uprising, who had never before fired a gun — paused to relay the latest news: After being pushed out of Ajdabiya Saturday, the rebels were battling to push the pro-government forces back toward the western gates of the city.

Adel said as usual, the rebels were outmatched in terms of firepower. "We have the usual weapons," he said, "howitzers, AK-47s, mostly light weapons.

"We're not afraid of the Gadhafi troops," he added, "we just need to deal with their tanks and artillery."

Farther down the highway, another knot of rebels massed at a checkpoint just a few miles from Ajdabiya. Distant thuds and plumes of smoke signaled that the battle was heating up. A fighter leaning against a red compact sedan repeated the rebel refrain: "We could make more progress if we could match Gadhafi's firepower."

"We're waiting for supplies," he said. "We need weapons, artillery, ammunition. Something more than these light weapons to fight with."

African Union: 'End Fighting'

But after days of criticism that it's not doing enough to protect Libyans, NATO stepped up its efforts Sunday. A statement from the alliance said NATO struck 11 tanks of forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi as they approached Ajdabiya Sunday, and that appeared to neutralize much of the pounding the rebels had been enduring. Within hours, rebel fighters were claiming to have regained control of the city.

NATO said its planes also destroyed another 14 government tanks near the western city of Misrata, where rebel fighters said they suffered significant casualties in recent days. NATO planes also intercepted a rebel jet Saturday and forced it to re-land in Benghazi, enforcing the no-fly zone against both sides.

The fighting continued as a delegation of African union leaders arrived in Tripoli for talks with Libyan officials. The union is calling for an immediate end to fighting, the delivery of humanitarian aid and dialogue between the government and the rebels. It's a message that so far seems to be getting a warmer reception from Gadhafi's supporters than from the rebels, who say there can be no dialogue while Gadhafi remains in power. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.