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The World

March 21, 2011

Libya action could last 'a while,' official says

(Continued)

ZWITINA, Libya —

Guaino, asked how long the allied efforts would continue, replied simply: "A while yet."

The U.N. resolution authorizing international military action in Libya not only sets up a no-fly zone but allows "all necessary measures" to prevent attacks on civilians. Since the airstrikes began, the number of civilians fleeing Libya has decreased as Libyans in particular wait out the rapidly changing situation, the U.N. refugee agency said Monday.

It was a dramatic turnaround in Libya's month-old upheaval: For 10 days, Gadhafi's forces had been on a triumphant offensive against the rebel-held east, driving opposition fighters back with the overwhelming firepower of tanks, artillery, warplanes and warships. Last week, as rebels fell back, the stream of civilians crossing into Egypt alone reached 3,000 a day.

Then, after the no-fly zone was imposed Friday, the number fell to about 1,500 a day, said UNHCR spokeswoman Sybella Wilkes.

Mohammed Abdul-Mullah, a 38-year-old civil engineer from Benghazi who was fighting with the rebel force, said government troops stopped all resistance after the international campaign began.

"They were running, by foot and in small cars," he said. "The balance has changed a lot. But pro-Gadhafi forces are still strong. They are a professional military and they have good equipment. Ninety percent of us rebels are civilians, while Gadhafi's people are professional fighters."

Rebel fighters descending from Benghazi met no resistance as they moved to the outskirts of Ajdabiya. In a field of dunes several miles (kilometers) outside the city, around 150 fighters massed. Some stood on the dunes with binoculars to survey the positions of pro-Gadhafi forces sealing off the entrances of the city. Ajdabiya itself was visible, black smoke rising, apparently from fires burning from fighting in recent days.

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