Libya: Gaddafi uses human shields to stop air strikes
A majority of Nato aircraft flying over Libya have been returning with their weapons unused as Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi's forces increase the use of human shields to protect themselves, the alliance has said.
As rebels yesterday complained that air support has decreased since Nato took over command of the air operation from the original American-led mission, a Nato spokesman said that 75 per cent of alliance aircraft returned to base on Monday without having deployed any of their bombs or missiles.
In a Nato briefing yesterday, Dutch Brigadier General Mark Van Uhm explained the challenge to coalition aircraft.
"The operational tempo remains, but we have seen a change of tactics (from Col Gaddafi)," he said. "When human beings are used as shields we don't engage."
Mr Van Uhm said the tactic was particularly apparent around the besieged city of Misrata, 125 south-east of Tripoli. It has been under siege and cut off from the world for weeks by Col Gaddafi's forces.
"(Misrata) is obviously the number one priority because of the situation there," he said. "We try to identify where those heavy assets are, because we have seen they have chosen to hide themselves into urban areas to prevent being targeted."
A doctor in Misrata corroborated that, saying Col Gaddafi's forces have been placing heavy weapons near civilians there for the past two weeks.
"They snuck their anti-aircraft weapons and tanks into the city. They are between the apartment buildings and the trees," he said. "They disguise their equipment on the big agricultural trucks that the farmers use outside of town. They bring in mortars with civilian cars."
Nato warplanes have now flown 851 sorties in the six days since the alliance took command of all operations.
Flights by fighters and attack jets have accounted for about 40 per cent of Nato sorties so far.
The rest are by Awacs surveillance aircraft, aerial refuelling tankers, maritime patrol planes, search and rescue helicopters and other support aircraft.
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Nato took over operations in Libya from a coalition led by the United States, Britain and France on 31 March and is enforcing a no-fly zone ordered by the United Nations and launching air strikes on Col Gaddafi's forces to shield civilians.
"The assessment is that we have taken out 30 per cent of the military capacity of Gaddafi," Mr Van Uhm said.
A western air strike destroyed two government trucks mounted with heavy machine guns in Brega yesterday, but a sustained government bombardment of rockets and mortars then pushed the insurgent pick-up truck cavalcade back towards Benghazi, their biggest retreat in several days of battles.
The insurgents said western air strikes had become less effective since Nato took control. "Since the day Nato took over the air strikes, we have been falling back," said rebel fighter Ziad el Khafiefy, 20.
"Gaddafi's troops are hitting us with Grad missiles," said Mabrouk el Majbary, 35. "Something is wrong. When the US gave leadership to Nato, the bombings stopped. When you see this, the situation is very bad. We cannot match their weapons," said Kamal Mughrabi, 64, a retired soldier who joined the rebels.
A tanker arrived near the eastern city of Tobruk yesterday to load up the rebels' first shipment of oil for export, potentially giving them crucial funding.The tanker can carry one million barrels of oil, less than the 1.6 million barrels Libya produced every day on average before the crisis. Analysts viewed the move as a symbolic step forward.
Meanwhile, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said his investigators have already gathered evidence that Col Gaddafi "planned to attack civilians to retain power" and avoid a successful people-power rebellion like the ones that forced out the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt.
ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said the plan, which the government of Col Gaddafi began developing in January, authorised the use of tear gas and, if necessary, killings.
His comments mark the first time since Libya was referred to The Hague-based institution in February that a senior international legal official has said evidence exists the Gaddafi government planned to kill its own people, although Western political leaders have previously alluded to this.
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