INTERVIEW-Libyan rebels want weapons, trainers from West

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 23 Mar 2011 12:18 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Rebels want Kalashnikovs, anti-tank weapons

* Our weapons "not enough" to form army, rebel trainer says

* West unlikely to heed rebel demand due to fallout

By Mohammed Abbas

BENGHAZI, Libya, March 23 (Reuters) - Rag-tag Libyan rebels fighting Muammar Gaddafi need trainers and weapons from the West to help them become a more organised force to push through to the capital Tripoli, the head of a rebel training camp said.

After four nights of air strikes by Western powers, disorganised and poorly equipped insurgents have failed to capitalise on the ground and remain pinned down mostly in the east of the country, raising the risk of a stalemate.

"We are waiting for support. We need ammunition. We need weapons. Because we don't have enough to move towards the west, to Tripoli and Sirte," said Fawzi Buktif, an oil project engineer who now runs a training base outside Benghazi.

"We would like Western trainers. We don't want forces, (but) trainers and the weapons that will come from them," Buktif told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday outside a former Gaddafi military camp, now dubbed the "Feb 17 Martyrs Training Camp".

Rebels have long called for air strikes but reject the use of foreign ground forces against Gaddafi.

Two burnt-out buses stood next to the road near the camp, after being used as a barricade to halt an advance by Gaddfi forces before Western air strikes stopped them in their tracks.

Buktif did not give details about numbers of fighters being trained at the base or say who was doing the training. But he said rebels were fighting Gaddafi's forces with weapons from "the old regime" but that this was not enough to form an army.

"We need Kalashnikovs, stingers, anti-tanks, all types of anti-tanks, that's what we need. Heavier weapons will take a long time to arrive and train to use," he said, adding the rebel National Libyan Council should look at making a formal request.

Analysts said the West was unlikely to send trainers or weapons due to the potential political and legal fallout.

The apparent lack of strong leadership and soldiering experience in the rebel force has posed a dilemma for foreign governments who have weighed in on their side with strikes from air and sea against Gaddafi's forces.

A stalemate in which the rebels fail to advance and Gaddafi continues to hold the west could leave Western powers policing a no-fly zone into the indefinite future.

"WE ARE REFORMING OURSELVES"

Five weeks into an insurgency to end Gaddafi's four-decade rule in the oil-producing north African country, the rebel effort in east Libya is bogged down outside Ajdabiyah, 150 km (90 miles) to the south of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Air strikes repelled Gaddafi's forces from Benghazi, leaving the road south of the city strewn with smashed army equipment.

But Gaddafi's tanks have kept up their shelling of the rebel-held town of Misrata in the west, rebels and residents say killing dozens of people, and has also been attacking the small town of Zintan near the border with Tunisia.

Buktif, who calls running the rebel training ground his "new project", admitted the rebels were not a formal army but a volunteer force united in their hatred of Gaddafi.

He said that as far as money goes "we have enough oil to pay for everything, no problem".

After an initial momentum in which rebels moved quickly across the sparsely populated desert west of Benghazi and seized a series of oil towns. They were then driven back by a stinging offensive from Gaddafi's far better equipped forces.

"We are reforming ourselves, we are preparing ourselves into something like an army," he said. "We are saying 'stop for a moment. Let's make ourselves proper', so that every time we go ahead, our back is covered." (Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Edmund Blair)