SUNDAY TIMES - Libyan rebels have run out of cash
Sunday Times STLive By Reuters, 2011-06-19 03:43:09.0

Libyan rebels have run out of cash

Rebel fighters rest close to the town of Riyayna, along the mountain frontline, after trying to cut off forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, June 15, 2011. REUTERS/Anis Mili (LIBYA - Tags: POLITICS CONFLICT)

Rebels waging a drawn-out war to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi have run out of money, their oil chief said yesterday, and he accused the West of not meeting promises to deliver urgent financial aid.

His appeal came as fissures were appearing in the Nato alliance over its three-month bombing campaign against Gaddafi, with some allies showing mission fatigue and the US accusing some European allies of failing to pull their weight.

The rebels have made important gains on various fronts in the past few weeks, but remain far from seizing their ultimate prize - Gaddafi's power base of Tripoli, despite air support from the world's most powerful military alliance.

At least eight rebels were killed in fighting near the northwestern town of Nalut, a rebel source said, as insurgents seek to press an advance into Gaddafi's heartland that has proven slow despite weeks of Nato air strikes on their behalf.

The gun battles in the village of Takut, just outside Nalut, yesterday followed exchanges of heavy artillery fire near the city of Zlitan, on the other side of Tripoli, as the insurgents tried to take government-held territory to the east of the city.

The remarks by rebel oil chief Ali Tarhouni highlighted the insurgents' struggle to make ends meet, with war damage to energy infrastructure in their eastern territory having knocked out oil production there.

Western powers are assisting the rebels through daily air strikes on Gaddafi's forces and have pledged to expand aid by tapping into Libyan assets frozen abroad.

But Tarhouni said there had been no follow-through on such promises. "We don't have any (cash). We are running out of everything. It's a complete failure. Either they (Western nations) don't understand or they don't care," he said in Benghazi.

"All of these people we talk to, all of these countries, at all these conferences, with their great grand speeches - we appreciate (them) from the political side, but in terms of finances they are a complete failure. Our people are dying."

Rebel leaders are struggling to find cash to pay for military operations and salaries in a society where, thanks to the legacy of Gaddafi's centralised rule, most people rely on state wages. The EU has pledged financial infusions and the US has promised more aid and offers of loans to keep the rebels afloat.

Asked why he thought it was taking Western nations so long, Tarhouni said: "No idea. ... I am tired of asking them. I don't expect us to produce oil any time soon. The refineries have no crude oil, so they are not working. People died for this revolution and are still dying. We will find a way (to raise money). One thing is for sure: We will never give up."

The rebels are trying to seal off coastal Tripoli from the east, west and south but their advances have been halting and weeks of Nato strikes pounding Gaddafi's compound and other targets have failed to bring down his 41-year-old rule.

  •  Syrian troops and gunmen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad stormed a town near the Turkish border yesterday, burning houses and arresting dozens, witnesses said.

The latest assault followed another on Friday of protests, which have grown in size and scope over the last three months, despite Assad's violent clampdown on public dissent.

Activists said security forces shot dead 19 protesters on Friday. "They came at 7am to Bdama. I counted nine tanks, 10 armoured carriers, 20 jeeps and 10 buses. I saw shabbiha (pro-Assad gunmen) setting fire to two houses," said Saria Hammouda, a lawyer living in the border town.

Bdama is one of the nerve centres providing food and supplies to several thousand other Syrians who have escaped the violence from frontier villages but chose to take shelter temporarily in fields.

Syrian rights groups say at least 1300 civilians have been killed and 10000 people detained since March.