Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Oil Towns Lost by Gaddafi; NATO Agrees to Assume Control of Mission from USA

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Oil Towns Lost by Gaddafi; NATO Agrees to Assume Control of Mission from USA

Article excerpt

Byline: Jon Smith

THE seizure by Libyan rebels of two key oil towns could produce "a very different political dynamic" in Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime, Defence Secretary Liam Fox said yesterday.

The rebels continued their rapid advance westwards, taking the coastal towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf as the regime's forces fell back in the face of coalition air strikes.

Last night, Nato agreed to assume command of all aerial operations - including ground attacks - in Libya from the US-led force that has been conducting air strikes against Gaddafi's forces.

Ambassadors approved the plan to expand the previously agreed mission to enforce the UN arms embargo and no-fly zone by agreeing to protect civilians from attack by Gaddafi's ground forces, a diplomat said.

After eight days of strikes on Libyan targets, Washington is eager to quickly hand off responsibility for air strikes to the alliance.

The un-named diplomat said the transfer of authority may take a several days.

Dr Fox said the latest gains by the rebels could give them effective control of Libya's entire oil export industry, potentially weakening Gaddafi's grip on power in Tripoli.

"As they move round the coast, of course, the rebels will increasingly control the exit points of Libya's oil," he told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show.

"That will produce a very dynamic and a very different equilibrium inside Libya. How that will play out in terms of public opinion and the Gaddafi regime remains to be seen."

The latest rebel advance came after coalition air strikes - including by RAF Tornado GR4s - targeted the regime's tanks and armoured vehicles around the strategic town of Ajdabiya, which fell to the rebels on Saturday.

That opened the path to Brega, a major oil export terminal, and the oil refining complex of Ras Lanuf, which together accounted for a large slice of Libya's 1.5 million barrels a day of exports, before production stopped with the uprising last month. …

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