Libya Rebels Struggle to Repel Qaddafi's Ajdabiya Forces

Libyan rebels struggled to repel Muammar Qaddafi’s forces from the eastern city of Ajdabiya as NATO and other international organizations stepped up efforts to bring an end to the military impasse.

An African delegation led by South African President Jacob Zuma is due to arrive today in Libya for talks with Qaddafi in Tripoli, the capital, and with opposition leaders in Benghazi, the country’s second-largest city. United Nations Secretary- General Ban Ki Moon will host a meeting of international organizations in Cairo on April 14 aimed at coordinating a response to the conflict.

“We have a stalemate,” James Baker, a former secretary of state and Treasury secretary to Republican presidents, said in comments scheduled to air on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” program today. “If you end up with a stalemate, then you ask yourself, OK, we’ve protected the citizens or the civilians in the eastern part of Libya. Are we better off with two states there or not? I can’t answer that question. I don’t know.”

The rebels’ six-week drive to topple Qaddafi’s 42-year rule has stalled as his forces have outgunned the opposition and protected their tanks, armored vehicles and other military hardware from NATO jets by moving them into cities. Allied forces have a UN mandate to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya in order to protect civilians.

Changing Tactics

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has grappled with changing tactics by the regime, whose forces have taken to driving civilian vehicles, Rear Admiral Russell Harding, deputy commander of the mission, said April 8. They have also faced the difficulty of distinguishing between pro- and anti-Qaddafi troops and civilians, he said, citing running battles on the road between Ajdabiya and the oil town of Brega.

The Libyan government said today it shot down two attack helicopters being used by rebel forces over Brega, the Associated Press reported, citing Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Amin. Pro-Qaddafi forces also launched a surprise attack on rebels in Ajdabiya, shelling the town and deploying soldiers on the streets, the British Broadcasting Corp. said. Eight rebels were killed in the violence, the BBC reported, citing unidentified doctors in the city.

The rebels have been struggling to move west from their stronghold of Benghazi and take and hold strategic towns including Ajdabiya, Brega and Ras Lanuf, Libya’s main oil terminal. In Misrata, the main rebel-held town in western Libya, NATO aircraft destroyed tanks and armored vehicles belonging to Qaddafi’s forces, Lieutenant General Charlie Bouchard, commander of the contingent, said yesterday in Brussels.

Oil Production

Oil output from Libya has dropped by about 1.3 million barrels a day to a “trickle,” the Paris-based International Energy Agency said last month. Oil production would still be less than a third of its pre-conflict level even if the rebels took control of the country’s oil fields, Nomura Holdings Inc. said in a report.

Crude oil climbed above $112 in New York for the first time in 30 months on April 8. Oil for May delivery rose $2.49 to $112.79 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest settlement since Sept. 22, 2008. Futures advanced 4.5 percent last week and are 32 percent higher than a year ago.

Asked by Zakaria how to get out of a stalemate if western Libya stays under the control of Muammar Qaddafi and the east stays under rebel control, Baker, 80, said: “I’m not sure you will.”

Baker also said Saudi Arabia believes the U.S. was “too quick to pull the plug” on former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak’s ouster followed the fall of Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in the start of unrest in a region that holds more than 60 percent of the world’s known oil reserves.

Regional Unrest

Almost four months after a 26-year-old vegetable seller set himself alight in despair over Tunisia’s social, political and economic conditions, protesters continue to take to the streets to demand political changes.

Scores of people were killed or wounded over the weekend in unrest in Yemen, Syria and Egypt. Yemeni security forces fired on demonstrators in three cities yesterday, leaving many wounded, while Syrian contingents shot at a funeral for protesters killed in an earlier demonstration.

Egyptian military leaders blamed “outlaws” trying to “thwart the revolution” for killing at least one person when soldiers broke up a protest in central Cairo, which also left 71 injured.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter S. Green in New York at psgreen@bloomberg.net; Justin Blum in Washington at jblum4@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net.

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