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Cluster bombs not used against rebels

Libya is categorically denying claims that Muammar Gaddafi's forces are using illegal cluster bombs against rebels in Misrata, as the long-besieged town came under heavy fire once again.

world Updated: Apr 17, 2011 09:06 IST

Libya is categorically denying claims that Muammar Gaddafi's forces are using illegal cluster bombs against rebels in Misrata, as the long-besieged town came under heavy fire once again.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Saturday that a new UN resolution to push the Libyan leader into quitting was unnecessary, and German Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle suggested frozen Libyan funds be diverted to the United Nations to pay for aid to victims of the conflict.

US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said its researchers reported the use of internationally banned cluster munitions against Misrata, the rebels' last major bastion in western Libya.

But a spokesman for the Libyan regime denied the accusations.

"Absolutely no. We can't do this. Morally, legally we can't do this," Mussa Ibrahim told journalists. "We never do it. We challenge them to prove it."

Cluster bombs explode in the air and scatter deadly, armour-piercing submunitions over a wide area.

"Last night it was like rain," said Hazam Abu Zaid, a local resident who has taken up arms to defend his neighbourhood, describing the cluster bombings.

A New York Times team first reported the use of the munitions, photographing MAT-120 mortar rounds it said were produced in Spain.

"It's appalling that Libya is using this weapon, especially in a residential area," said Steve Goose, HRW's arms division director.

"They pose a huge risk to civilians, both during attacks because of their indiscriminate nature and afterwards because of the still-dangerous unexploded duds scattered about."

Loud explosions rocked Misrata and, in the east, heavy fighting was reported as rebel fighters, bolstered by NATO air strikes, pushed on from the crossroads town of Ajdabiya towards the strategic oil town of Brega.

Six people were killed and 31 wounded in Misrata on Saturday, a similar number to Friday's casualty figures.

In Ajdabiya, another six died and 20 were wounded.

Even farther west, NATO air strikes targeted Kadhafi's hometown of Sirte for a second day, state news agency JANA reported, without giving details.

Later in the day, the agency reported air strikes on the Al-Hira region, 50 kilometres (30 miles) southwest of Tripoli.

The blasts in Misrata were accompanied by bursts of gunfire heard from the city centre, after NATO flyovers and possible air raids were followed by a lull in shelling and shooting, an AFP correspondent said.

The city's dairy was bombed around dawn and remained ablaze by mid-afternoon.

"They are trying to starve us to death, attacking the dairy, the water purification plant," said Jiraal, a Libyan who had returned from England to join the rebels.

A doctor in Misrata said rebels had destroyed two tanks with recoilless rifles, while capturing and burning two more -- because they did not know how to drive them.

In Paris, aid organisation Doctors Without Borders said it had evacuated 99 people, including 64 war-wounded, by boat from Misrata on Friday to Tunisia.

Speaking of the dire conditions in the city, under siege for weeks, MSF doctor Morten Rostrup noted health structures were struggling to cope with the heavy inflow of patients.

"With the latest heavy bombardments in Misrata, the situation is worsening, as hospitals have to discharge patients before their treatment is completed in order to treat the new wounded from fighting," he added.

"Many injured cannot even access medical facilities without further risking their life."

Rostrup also said an MSF visit to a nearby migrant camp found people living in "extremely difficult" conditions, lacking proper shelter and food.

Tens of thousands of migrants have already fled Libya since the rebellion erupted in mid-February.

Juppe said a new UN resolution to push Kadhafi into quitting was unnecessary.

"We think that given his behaviour, his savage repression of the population, Kadhafi has lost all legitimacy to stay in power," Juppe said.

"That is the view of the United States, of Great Britain, of the 27 member states of the European Union, of the Arab League, and there is no need for a new Security Council resolution to enact this principle."

Speaking on the sidelines of a conference on the Arab uprisings, Juppe said the coalition was "strictly" applying the current resolution.

The New York Times reported that US President Barack Obama's administration has launched an intense search for a country, likely in Africa, that could provide refuge to Kadhafi.

But amid looming indictments against Kadhafi by the International Criminal Court in the Hague for the atrocities committed against his own people during the ongoing popular uprising and for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103, US officials only have a narrow list of potential host countries.

German Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle has suggested that frozen Libyan funds should be diverted to the United Nations to pay for aid to victims of the conflict.

The weekly Der Spiegel quoted an internal note from Bruederle's ministry saying Germany had frozen $6 billion (4.1 billion euros) of assets belonging to Kadhafi or the Libyan state in line with UN sanctions.

These assets, as well as those seized by other European countries, could be paid into a special UN account "in order to pay for humanitarian aid to ease the distress of the inhabitants of the whole of Libya," the note was quoted as saying.

In Berlin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for an immediate ceasefire and for the warring parties to be brought to the negotiating table.

UN Security Council Resolution 1973 calls for a ceasefire, but Kadhafi has relentlessly pursued his campaign to retake territory lost to the rebels.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen denied the air strikes were beyond the scope of the UN resolution.

"I have to stress that in the conduct of that operation, we do not go beyond the text or the spirit" of the resolution, he said.

Meanwhile, the European Union and NATO deepened their coordination for a potential EU military mission to deliver urgent humanitarian aid to Misrata, diplomats said.

The International Organisation for Migration said about 1,200 migrants have been evacuated from Misrata to the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi. Most were Bangladeshis and Egyptians.