29 Aug 2011

Libya rebels close in on Gaddafi stronghold

10:30 pm on 29 August 2011

Rebel forces in Libya are converging on Muammar Gaddafi's home town of Sirte hoping to deliver the coup de grace of their revolution but uncertain if the fallen strongman is holed up there.

Colonel Gaddafi's exact whereabouts are still not known and it is possible he is still in hiding in the capital, Tripoli, five days after it fell to rebel forces and his 42-year-old reign collapsed.

NATO war planes have struck at Sirte, on the Mediterranean coast, for a third day as anti-regime forces close in.

The rebels say they will take the city by force if negotiations for its surrender fails.

Gaddafi was born near Sirte, 450 km east of Tripoli, in 1942 and after he seized power in 1969 he built it up from a fishing village into an important city and power center of 100,000 people.

One rebel commander said his forces were within 100 kilometres of Sirte from the east and others were advancing from the west.

On the coastal highway east of Tripoli, tank transporters were carrying Soviet-designed T-55 tanks in the direction of Sirte. Rebels said the tanks were seized from an abandoned military base in Zlitan.

Negotiation offer rejected

The rebel leadership has rejected an offer, apparently from Colonel Gaddafi, to negotiate the setting up of a transitional government.

The offer was made in a call to a news agency in the US by Colonel Gaddafi's spokesperson Moussa Ibrahim, who said the fugitive leader had appointed his son Saadi to lead the discussions.

Britain's foreign secretary William Hague says the Libyan dictator is in no position to negotiate and it would be delusional for him to think otherwise.