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Stalemate in Libya as civilians scramble to escape conflict

One month after the UN authorized military action to protect civilians in Libya, there's no end in sight to the conflict. Moammar Gadhafi's forces remain on the offensive as the West again rules out ground troops.

Rebels load a truck with ammunition on the outskirts of Ajdabiya

Libyan rebels are struggling to fend off Gadhafi's forces

Despite NATO air-strikes against Gadhafi's armor, rebels have been unable to hold gains in weeks of back-and-forth fighting over the coastal towns of eastern Libya.

With NATO troops bogged down in Afghanistan, Western countries have ruled out sending ground troops, a position reinforced by the British prime minister on Sunday.

"What we've said is there is no question of invasion or an occupation - this is not about Britain putting boots on the ground," David Cameron told Sky News in an interview.

He said outside powers would help in every other way to stop Gadhafi "unleashing this hell on people in Misrata" and other towns up and down the Libyan coast, including providing "non-lethal equipment" to the rebels.

European Council President Herman van Rompuy said he viewed the Libyan rebel council as "a valuable discussion partner ... that embodies the Libyan people's aspirations," a political vote of confidence for a force that has struggled militarily.

Rebels on the defense

The United States, France and Britain said last week they would not stop bombing Gadhafi's forces until he left power, although when or if that would happen was unclear.

British Prime Minister Cameron

British Prime Minister Cameron won't send ground forces to Libya

The rebels pushed hundreds of kilometers toward the capital Tripoli in late March, after foreign warplanes began bombing Gadhafi's positions to protect civilians, but proved unable to hold territory and were pushed back as far as Ajdabiyah.

"From a military point of view, one can currently see there is a stalemate," the head of Germany's intelligence service, Ernst Uhrlau, told the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper.

According to rebels, on Sunday a dozen rockets landed in Ajdabiyah, which they wanted to use as a staging post to retake the oil port of Brega. Al Jazeera television reported that rebels had managed to enter the strategically crucial city on Monday after days of heavy attacks by Libyan forces.

In the country's west, the rebel-held city of Misrata has been under government siege for seven weeks, leading to a growing humanitarian crisis. The UN special envoy to Libya, Baroness Valerie Amos, said on Monday she was "deeply concerned" about the ongoing conflict there. At least 1,000 people are believed to have been killed in the fighting and shelling of the city.

Possible mass exodus

A ship charted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) managed to evacuate some 700 people, mostly migrant workers, from Misrata on Monday, following a similar rescue mission on Friday which saw around 1,200 civilians taken out of the city.

A company in Misurata was destroyed as a result of fighting between the insurgents and the troops Gadhafi

The situation in Misrata is deteriorating rapidly

Jeremy Haslam, head of the IOM mission in Libya, said he was worried the movement could be just the tip of the iceberg of an attempted mass escape by sea by many of Misrata's 400,000 residents.

Such an exodus would overwhelm the evacuation operation mounted by the IOM, the Qatari government and the French group Doctors Without Borders, he warned.

The current plan calls for the IOM and other organizations to take thousands of non-Libyan refugees from Misrata - mostly Egyptians, Chadians, Ghanians and people from Niger - to a transit camp in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi, where they would be sent to Egypt for repatriation.

Britain on Monday pledged financial backing for the operation.

Author: Rob Mudge, Michael Knigge, David Levitz (Reuters, AFP, dpa)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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