Libya's interim rulers said they had captured one of Muammar Gaddafi's last strongholds deep in the Sahara desert, finding a secret stock of chemical weapons, and had largely taken control of another.
The National Transitional Council 's (NTC) military spokesmen said its forces had seized the outpost of Jufra about 700 km southeast of Tripoli, and most of Sabha, a larger town further south which is the traditional base of Gaddafi's tribe.
"The whole of the Jufra area - we have been told it has been liberated," spokesman Fathi Bashaagha told reporters in the city of Misrata late on Wednesday.
"There was a depot of chemical weapons and now it is under the control of our fighters."
His comments could not be confirmed independently. Under Gaddafi, Libya was supposed to have destroyed its stockpile of chemical weapons and abandon its nuclear programme in early 2004 as part of a rapprochement with the West.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says Libya kept 9.5 tonnes of mustard gas at a secret desert location.
Gaddafi loyalists have been holding out in Jufra and Sabha along with the bigger strongholds of Bani Walid, southeast of Tripoli, and Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte.