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Libyan forces breach border with Tunisia

Libyan forces breach border with Tunisia

April 30th, 2011 in News

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) - Libyan forces in more than a dozen military vehicles and armed with anti-aircraft guns and rocket launchers crossed into Tunisia on Friday as fighting with rebels raged along the western frontier, witnesses said. Tunisia's government was furious after clashes broke out on its territory and demanded Libya halt all incursions.

In another sign that Moammar Gadhafi's regime was redoubling efforts to beat back resistance in its stronghold of western Libya, NATO warships intercepted several boats laying anti-shipping mines outside the harbor of the rebel-held city of Misrata. The port is the only lifeline for the city of 300,000, which has been under siege by Gadhafi's forces for two months.

NATO crews were disposing of the mines.

Libyan forces also fired rockets and shells at Misrata from the outskirts of town, killing at least eight people.

The fighting on the Libyan-Tunisian border, the attempted mining of the waters near Misrata and the renewed shelling signaled a new push by Gadhafi's forces to retake the two areas of fiercest rebel resistance in the west. It's unlikely Gadhafi would be able to cling to power without consolidating control over western Libya.

The rebels have largely controlled the eastern part of the country since an uprising against Gadhafi, Libya's ruler of 42 years, erupted in mid-February. They have said they will not contemplate a cease-fire before he is pushed out.

The Dhuheiba border crossing between Libya and Tunisia has been a flashpoint in recent days. The crossing has been changing hands repeatedly between regime forces and rebels, who retook it Friday.

The crossing is key supply line for Libya's Nafusa mountain area, near Tunisia, from where members of Libya's ethnic Berber minority have been fighting Gadhafi's forces.

On Friday, there were different accounts of what exactly happened in the Tunisian border town of Dhuheiba, about three miles from the border. Witnesses said more than a dozen Libyan military vehicles, carrying troops armed with anti-aircraft guns and rocket launchers, drove into town, setting off clashes. Three Tunisians were hurt.

Ismail al-Wafi, a Dhuheiba resident, said the Libyan forces fired indiscriminately. He said Dhuheiba residents clashed with the Libyans and Tunisian troops eventually captured some and took their weapons.

Another witness said Libyan troops clashed with Libyan rebels in Dhuheiba before they were defeated by Tunisian troops. Some of the Libyans were captured and the others chased out, said the witness, who only gave his first name, Akram, for fear of reprisals. "Gadhafi forces are no longer in Dhuheiba. They were defeated," he said.

The Tunisian news agency TAP said Tunisian forces fired in the air, but did not clash with Libyan troops.

Dhuheiba resident Mohamed Hedia said angry Dhuheiba civilians and the families of Libyan rebels who had been staying there set upon the Gadhafi troops, creating a "chaotic situation." Tunisian forces fired warning shots, Hedia said.

It was unclear why the Libyans entered Dhuheiba in the first place.

One witness said they were fleeing from rebels who had recaptured the border crossing earlier Friday. An Associated Press Television News crew saw two bodies of Libyan troops near the crossing Friday. The crew was told rebels were chasing two dozen Libyan military vehicles on the Libyan side in hopes of securing a supply corridor to the mountain area.

The Nafusa mountain range is home to Berbers who have complained of systematic discrimination by the Libyan government. Thousands of Libyans from the mountain communities have fled to Dhuheiba and other Tunisian border towns in recent weeks, as rebels and government forces battled for control of the border crossing.