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Rebels will accept foreign forces to protect Libyans

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 20 Apr 2011 22:11 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Rebel spokesman says NATO action improving

* Military leaders have approved arrival of military advisers (Adds quotes)

By Alexander Dziadosz

BENGHAZI, Libya, April 20 (Reuters) - Libyan rebels would not object to the presence of foreign ground forces to protect a safe haven for civilians, a senior rebel spokesman said on Wednesday.

Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, spokesman for the rebel National Council, also said that NATO had been doing more to protect civilians through its campaign of airstrikes.

"Protecting civilians requires having safe passages to deliver humanitarian supplies," Ghoga told a news conference in the opposition stronghold of Benghazi, where the revolt against Muammar Gaddafi began on Feb. 17.

"If that (protecting civilians) does not come except through ground forces that will ensure this safe haven, then there is no harm in that at all," he said, adding that the National Council did not believe such a move amounted to military intervention. The European Union has outlined a provisional plan that could see European troops sent to the besieged western city of Misrata to protect aid deliveries if requested by the United Nations, EU officials said on Monday.

Misrata has been under siege for seven weeks, and hundreds of civilians are reported to have been killed. Evacuees say conditions are becoming increasingly desperate under what they describe as indiscriminate shelling.

The Libyan government denies its troops are attacking civilians and says its troops are fighting al Qaeda-linked militants bent on overthrowing the Libyan state.

Ghoga said NATO's efforts to protect civilians from Gaddafi's forces had improved both in the west and the east, where rebels are fighting better-armed and trained troops on the road between Ajdabiyah and the disputed oil port of Brega.

"The performance of the alliance (NATO) in protecting civilians...is going well, not only in Ajdabiyah but also in Misrata and in Tripoli," he said.

MILITARY ADVISERS

Ghoga said rebel military leaders had approved the arrival of foreign military advisers to Benghazi, but declined to give details.

London has said it would send about a dozen officers to Libya but would not arm rebels or train them to fight.

Ghoga said rebel forces were still cautiously advancing toward Brega. He later told Al Jazeera that the National Council had formally requested weapons from Italy and the results of talks "were good."

"We are waiting for this military aid from a friendly country that recognises the National Council," he said.

Asked what sort of weapons, if any, would be supplied to the rebels, Ghoga said: "I believe the head of the army said he asked for attack helicopters as well as heavy military equipment."

Responding to conflicting reports about who is leading the rebel forces, Ghoga said opposition troops were under the command of Abdel Fattah Younes, the interior minister under Gaddafi who defected in the early days of the uprising.

Ghoga said Khalifa Hiftar's role was field commander.

"There have been no discrepancies in the leadership".

(Writing by Sami Aboudi in Cairo and Alexander Dziadosz; additional reporting by Joseph Nasr)

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