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Libyan rebel leader says NATO isn't doing enough

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — A rebel military leader lashed out at NATO Tuesday, saying it was falling short in its mission to protect Libyan civilians. The alliance said ruler Moammar Gadhafi’s forces position heavy weapons in populated areas, preventing some airstrikes.

Abdel-Fattah Younis, chief of staff for the rebel military and Gadhafi’s former interior minister, said he was asking the opposition’s leadership council to take their grievances to the U.N. Security Council, which authorized the use of force in Libya to stop Gadhafi from wiping out the uprising that began on Feb. 15.

NATO forces “don’t do anything” even though the United Nations gave them the right to act, Younis said. He complained that NATO could take eight hours to respond to events on the battlefield.

“The people will die and this crime will be on the face of the international community forever. What is NATO doing?” Younis said.

NATO last week took control over the international airstrikes that began March 19 as a U.S.-led mission. The air raids, authorized by a U.N. resolution to stop Gadhafi from attacking civilians, began March 19 as a U.S.-led mission, but NATO took control last week.

Gadhafi has been putting out feelers for a ceasefire, but refuses to step down as the opposition is demanding.

The rebels have maintained control of much of the eastern half of Libya since early in the uprising, while Gadhafi has clung to much of the west. Misrata, which Gadhafi’s forces have besieged for weeks, is the only major rebel-controlled western city though the opposition also holds several smaller towns in a line southwest of the capital near the border with Tunisia.

Brig. Gen. Mark Van Uhm of NATO said Tuesday that airstrikes have so far destroyed 30 percent of Gadhafi’s military capacity.

On Monday, the alliance said it carried out 14 attacks on ground targets across the country, destroying radars, munitions dumps, armored vehicles and a rocket launcher. Three-quarters of Monday’s scheduled strike missions, however, had to return without dropping their bombs or launching their missiles because Gadhafi loyalists made it more difficult for pilots to distinguish between civilians and regime troops, Van Uhm said.

The general and a doctor in Misrata said Gadhafi’s forces had recently changed tactics in that besieged city by moving tanks and other heavy equipment to civilian areas.

“They snuck their anti-aircraft weapons and tanks into the city. They are between the apartment buildings and the trees,” said the doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Younis, however, said civilians have cleared out of areas of Misrata occupied by Gadhafi’s forces and that NATO “would have lifted the siege days ago” if it wanted to.

“Children are dying every day and women and men are dying every day from shelling. If NATO waited another week, that will be the end of Misrata. There won’t be anyone left.”

Asked for a response, NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said: “The facts speak for themselves. The tempo of operations has continued unabated.”

Younis’ news conference — a rare public appearance by the rebel military’s top commander — was a sharp break in diplomatic protocol as the opposition seeks more airstrikes and other support, including arms, from the international community, as well as recognition of the council as the only legitimate government in Libya.

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