Libyan forces say they cleared 'armed gangs' from Brega

Forces loyal to Gaddafi press on in east; US says Arab League calls on UN to impose Libya no-fly zone are an "important step."

brega fighting in libya_311 reuters (photo credit: Goran Tomasevic / Reuters)
brega fighting in libya_311 reuters
(photo credit: Goran Tomasevic / Reuters)
RAS LANUF, Libya - Muammar Gaddafi's troops forced outgunned Libyan rebels to retreat eastwards on Sunday and laid siege to pockets of resistance, unimpeded by diplomatic efforts to impose a no-fly zone.
The United States said a call by the Arab League for a U.N. no-fly zone over Libya was an "important step", but while Washington said it was preparing for "all contingencies", it has remained cautious over endorsing direct military intervention.
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Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said the League had "officially asked the U.N. Security Council to impose a no-fly zone against any military action against the Libyan people".
That would appear to satisfy one of the factors that NATO has said is needed for it to take on the task of policing Libyan air space, that of strong Arab support. But the other, a U.N. mandate, is still not in sight.
The United States does not want to appear to be leading the drive to oust Gaddafi and made no proposal for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council. Diplomats in New York said a Security Council meeting at the weekend was unlikely.
Even if the Security Council does come together to discuss a Libyan no-fly zone, it is far from clear whether it would pass a resolution as veto holders Russia and China have both publicly opposed the idea.
The lengthy diplomatic negotiations run the danger of being overtaken by events on the ground as Gaddafi's troops pressed home their advantage in armour and air power and pushed the rag-tag insurgent forces back on the oil town of Brega, some 220 km (137 miles) south of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
Libyan state television said "Brega has been cleansed of armed gangs", but the report could not be immediately confirmed.
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Some residents had fled Brega in fear, and rebels again appealed for foreign help to stop Gaddafi's warplanes.
Losing Brega and its refinery would limit rebel access to fuel after the insurgents were pushed out of Ras Lanuf on Sunday, another major oil terminal some 100 km to the west.
"The Libyan people need help. We're in danger. The east is in danger," said Abdel Hadi Omar, a civilian rebel volunteer. "The Libyan people can't cope with Gaddafi's weapons. We have people but we don't have means."
Rebels do not want the support of foreign ground troops.
"We believe that, with (a no-fly zone), we will be able to prevail," said Hafiz Ghoga, a spokesman for the rebel National Libyan Council.