The battle for Misrata

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World. Eyewitnesses in Libya said today that rebels have taken control of a border crossing on Libya's western frontier with Tunisia. It was a rare victory for the rebels. Libyan government troops continue to pound the only rebel stronghold in the west, Misrata. Today, in Misrata, mortar fire killed at least 3 rebels and wounded 17, but they've been fighting back.
[sound of weapons firing]
That sound from a video that was sent to the BBC, which cannot be verified, but it appears to show rebels using heavy weapons to fire at government snipers. Misrata has been under siege by the forces of the Libyan leader, Muammar Ghaddafi for 7 weeks now. Hundreds of people have died. Dr. Hakim Zagute, who's a surgeon at the city's main hospital says the staff there has been overwhelmed.

Dr. Hakim Zagute : Imagine the surgeon when they start the surgery and in the middle of the work, and this is what happened to me, my [inaudible 0:57] says you have to finish now, stop now and we have to take your patient out, and have another one because it's more serious. It's very hard.

Mullins: That's Dr. Hakim Zague in Misrata. Ned Parker of the Los Angeles Times is there right now. Could you describe for us, Ned, how the events unfolded today from what you were able to witness?

Ned Parker: We've been spending time on the perimeters of what's called Tripoli Street, which is the main battlefield in the center of Misrata. It's a boulevard that cuts north and south dividing the city between east and west, and essentially under rebel fighter controls. But the reality is it's a no-man's land. There are snipers throughout the street, in buildings, with artillery, cluster bombs, RPGs, rifles. So there's a deafening cat and mouse game on the street which is once a thriving commercial boulevard, that included you know, fancy shops, coffee houses where you could get a cappuccino and espresso, but now it's a killing field. So the rebels, they do have some anti-aircraft guns, heavy machine guns, but they are definitely out manned by Gaddafi's forces. There fighters on Tripoli Street are sort of locked in now by the rebels, so in theory they should be running out of supplies, but the boundaries of the city are surrounded by Gaddafi's forces. So as long as Gaddafi's forces have sniper positions in tall buildings in the city on Tripoli Street, and surround the city from east to west, and can rain down heavy fire, in a war of attrition, you know, Misrata's man power is slowly going to be dwindled away.

Mullins: Why is Misrata itself so important to the rebels?

Parker: Misrata is a major rebel held city in western Libya. It stands between Tripoli and Gaddafi's hometown of Sirt. It also stands on the major coastal highway that connects Tripoli and Sirt, and it is the third largest city in Libya. So it prevents supply lines from having a clear path between the two other cities. It forces Gaddafi to do a huge loop through the center of the country. You know, if he loses Misrata it's possible it could help bring him down. If he can't hold the [inaudible 3:24] major city on the coast, it could perhaps still encourage others to continue their fight.

Mullins: The government of Gaddafi you're saying, it's forces will unleash hell if NATO gets into Misrata. Where is NATO now and are there any plans for it to enter the city?

Parker: Well, I think the people of Misrata want NATO to enter. They feel that without NATO they have no chance to win because Gaddafi has superior artillery fire, rocket fire, mortars, you know, heavy machine guns. So without NATO coming in they feel that they cannot win.

Mullins: Speaking to us from Misrata, Ned Parker of the Los Angeles Times. Thank you, stay safe. Thanks again.

Parker: Thank you. Take care.