Libya round-up: Latest news and analysis

Dominic Browne gives a round-up of all the latest news and analysis of the war in Libya.

Tim Hetherington

Two award winning photojournalists have been killed while covering the siege of Misrata, as the Libyan war enters a new phase; Colonel Gaddafi’s forces increase their attacks on civilians, and analysts are concerned over mission creep and whether the Libyan rebels have the tools to finish the job.

In an entry on twitter shortly before his death, Briton Tim Hetherington, 40, an Oscar nominated film maker, and brave war photographer said:

“In Misrata, indiscriminate shelling, no sign of Nato.”

Mr Hetherington, who won the World Press Photo of the Year Award in 2007, was killed alongside US photographer Chris Hondros, 41, who won the Robert Capa Gold Medal for war photography. Two others, including Briton Guy Martin, were injured. The group were hit with a rocket-propelled grenade.

The BBC report:

“A survivor told the BBC that a group of journalists had been pulling back from near the front line during a lull in the fighting in Misrata when they were attacked.

Mr Hetherington was in Libya working for Vanity Fair. His family have released a statement on the magazine’s website which reads:

“It is with great sadness we learned that our son and brother, photographer and filmmaker Tim Hetherington, was killed today in Misrata, Libya by a rocket-propelled grenade. Tim will be remembered for his amazing images and his Academy Award–nominated documentary “Restrepo”, which he co-produced with his friend Sebastian Junger.

Tim was in Libya to continue his ongoing multimedia project to highlight humanitarian issues during time of war and conflict. He will be forever missed.”

Human Rights Watch(HRW) have created a moving page as a tribute to the life and work of Mr Hetherington which tells not only of the man’s brilliance and bravery, covering humanitarian and war stories throughout the world but also the esteem and love he inspired in so many colleagues and friends. You can also listen to a tribute to Hetherington from an ex-US soldier who starred in Restrepo here.

HRW have also backed up Hetherington’s account of Gaddafi’s forces’ appalling terror tactics.

The group have reported:

“Libyan government forces have launched indiscriminate rocket and mortar attacks on residential neighborhoods in the rebel-held city of Misrata.”

Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch said:

“Libyan government forces have repeatedly fired mortars and Grad rockets into residential neighborhoods in Misrata, causing civilian casualties…The Soviet-made Grad in particular is one of the world’s most inaccurate rocket systems and should never be fired in areas with civilians.”

Human Rights Watch also point out that: 

“These indiscriminate attacks come alongside the use by Libyan government forces of cluster munitions in civilian-populated areas of Misrata, documented by Human Rights Watch on April 15.”

The BBC have further reports on the state of terror Gaddafi’s is inflicting on his own people in Misrata:

“The Grad rockets are fired in a dense and inaccurate pattern, while the cluster munitions – now banned by most countries – release high-velocity fragments and molten metal.

“I think that they are bombing at random and I think this is terrorising the people,” said Paolo Grosso, an anaesthetist working at a clinic in Misrata for the Italian branch of the aid agency Emergency.

“They have no military target – they bomb anywhere to scare the population.”

“One woman who fled Misrata said Tripoli Street was a “war zone” and accused Col Gaddafi’s troops of abuses.

“There were corpses in the gutter and in the vegetable market where I buy produce,” she told the UN humanitarian news service Irin. “The militia raped women, slaughtered men and killed children.”

The BBC have reported:

“UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the reported use of cluster bombs by Col Gaddafi’s forces trying to retake the city “could amount to international crimes”.

BBC correspondent Jonathan Marcus has described the situation in Misrata as “a symbol of the rebel forces’ tenacity, and of the inadequacy of NATO’s strategy”. He goes on to say it could become “the anvil on which the Atlantic Alliance’s whole policy could falter”. 

Mr Marcus comments that Libya appears to been entering a new phase as:  

“Colonel Gaddafi’s forces have weathered the storm. His regime has not collapsed.

“NATO warplanes have contributed to an enforced stalemate in the east, but the inadequacies of the rebel forces mean that they are unable to defeat their government opponents on the ground.”

The International Herald Tribune have an in-depth analysis of the rebels’ arms capacity here. To give some idea of the predicament the article starts:  

“A PKT machine gun, a weapon designed to be mounted on a Soviet tank and fired electronically by a crew member inside, has no manual trigger, no sights and no shoulder stock. That does not prevent many Libyan rebels from carrying it as if it were an infantryman’s gun, even though it cannot be fired.”

It concludes:

“Taken together, this mixed picture presents foreign backers with a pair of related problems. To watch Libyan rebels head to battle is to watch young men calling for freedom step toward a bloody mismatch, and often their deaths. To arm them, though, is to assume other risks, some of which could last for years.”

The BBC News 24 have reported today that doctors in Misrata say they are overwhelmed by the casualties.

It appears that Gaddafi’s forces are hiding inside the city as well as putting under siege exposing the limits of NATO air forces’ ability to attack them if they are in civilian areas. The rebels however are “fighting hard” and with some success so far as Jeremy Bowen reports.

Mr Bowen described “street fighting” in the city of Misrata.

“I suspect it’s (the fighting) in a fairly limited area, we keep hearing about Tripoli street.”

He said the rebels were “fighting hard” and “seem to be keeping the army out”. He also commented that:

“NATO has to find a way of breaking through and doing the things they can do,”

Pressure is piling up on NATO as the BBC News 24 have reported that many Libyans say they are not doing enough.  

The UK are preparing to send military advisers to help Libyan rebels in a bid to end the stalemate of this second phase. The Guardian have a piece analysing their use, reporting that some MP’s have warned that this represents mission creep, and former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell even said:

“Vietnam began with a US president sending military advisers. We must proceed with caution.”

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