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by
John Rosenthal

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April 18, 2011 - 7:25 am

The weekend saw the publication of a slew of press reports accusing Libyan government forces of putting civilian lives at risk by using cluster bombs in their efforts to recapture the city of Misrata. The main sources given for the reports are the Libyan rebel forces, against which government forces are fighting, and the NGO Human Rights Watch.

Libya is not a member of the international convention banning the use of such munitions. Only 55 countries are. The United States, incidentally, is not a member of the convention either. Nonetheless, Libyan government spokespersons have denied using the weapons.

But, in any case, a report from Misrata in the weekend edition of the French newspaper Le Figaro inadvertently casts doubt on the claims of the rebel leadership and Human Rights Watch. Le Figaro reporter Adrien Jaulmes was, in effect, “embedded” with rebel forces. Speaking, so to say, “off-script,” a rebel fighter told him that there are no civilians in Misrata. Indeed, the rebel fighter expressly called on NATO to bomb the center of the city.

Here is the full quote:

The air strikes have helped us a lot and we thank Sarkozy. Tell him that. NATO was slow to resume the aerial bombardments, but now they are doing good work. The planes are attacking Gaddafi’s tanks and weapons convoys. Now, they need to attack directly those [Libyan government forces] who are in the center of Misrata. There aren’t any civilians. There are only combatants like us.

Referring to the city’s main thoroughfare, the rebel fighter added, “They can bomb Tripoli Street.”

Update:

Apropos comment #1 below, in a separate report published in the same edition of Le Figaro, Adrien Jaulmes addresses the issue of whether civilians are still present elsewhere “in” Misrata, if not in the city center. What he says on the matter is contradictory and whether they are or are not appears finally to be a matter of definition. On the one hand, he insists that most of the residents have stayed in the “besieged city.” On the other hand, he says that most of the residents have been evacuated to a neighborhood adjoining the port and that the port is “outside the city.” The so-called port of Misrata is also known as Gasr Ahmed.

The below Google satellite photo makes clear that the port is in fact located at some distance from the city proper. The city of Misrata is the agglomeration to the left. The port of Gasr Ahmed is to the right.

Jaulmes – whose account, incidentally, amounts to a paean to the rebel forces – claims that Gasr Ahmed is also being struck by Libyan government artillery. But, in any case, contrary to the tenor of so many recent reports, it would appear that Misrata proper is not now in fact a “besieged city,” but rather a city  that has been largely emptied of its population and transformed into the scene of combat between government and rebel forces.

John Rosenthal writes on European politics and transatlantic security issues. You can follow his work at www.trans-int.com or on Facebook here.
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