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More disciplined Libyan opposition force emerging

By Ryan Lucas

Associated Press

Published: Friday, April 1 2011 1:51 p.m. MDT

U.N. envoy Abdelilah Al-Khatib, left, and Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, right, head of the opposition's interim governing council based in Benghazi, attend a joint press conference in Benghazi, Libya Friday, April 1, 2011. Libya's rebels will agree to a cease-fire if Moammar Gadhafi pulls his military forces out of cities and allows peaceful protests against his regime, the opposition leader said Friday.

Ben Curtis, Associated Press

AJDABIYA, Libya — Something new has appeared at the Libyan front: a semblance of order among rebel forces.

Rebels without training — sometimes even without weapons — have rushed in and out of fighting in a free-for-all for weeks, repeatedly getting trounced by Moammar Gadhafi's more heavily armed forces. But on Friday only former military officers and the lightly trained volunteers serving under them are allowed on the front lines. Some are recent arrivals, hoping to rally against forces loyal to the Libyan leader who have pushed rebels back about 100 miles this week.

The better organized fighters, unlike some of their predecessors, can tell the difference between incoming and outgoing fire. They know how to avoid sticking to the roads, a weakness in the untrained forces that Gadhafi's troops have exploited. And they know how to take orders.

"The problem with the young untrained guys is they'll weaken us at the front, so we're trying to use them as a backup force," said Mohammed Majah, 33, a former sergeant.

"They don't even know how to use weapons. They have great enthusiasm, but that's not enough now," he said.

Majah said the only people at the front now are former soldiers, "experienced guys who have been in reserves, and about 20 percent are young revolutionaries who have been in training and are in organized units."

The greater organization was a sign that military forces that split from the regime to join the rebellion were finally taking a greater role in the fight after weeks trying to organize. Fighters cheered Friday as one of their top commanders — Col. Khalifa Hafter, a former senior figure in Gadhafi's military — drove by in a convoy toward the front.

It was too early to say if the improvements will tip the fight in the rebels' favor. They have been struggling to exploit the opportunity opened by international airstrikes hammering Gadhafi's forces since March 19.

In a sign the strikes may be eroding Gadhafi's resilience, his government is trying to hold talks with the U.S., Britain and France in hopes of ending the air campaign, said Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi, a former Libyan prime minister who has served as a Gadhafi envoy during the crisis. "We are trying to find a mutual solution," he told Britain's Channel 4 News on Friday.

British officials met with Mohammed Ismail, a Libyan government aide who happened to be in London visiting relatives, and told him Gadhafi must quit, two people familiar with the issue said Friday. The two demanded anonymity to discuss details.

The opposition said Friday in Benghazi, its de facto capital, that it will agree to a cease-fire if Gadhafi pulls his military forces out of cities and allows peaceful protests against his regime.

The rebel condition is that "the Gadhafi brigades and forces withdraw from inside and outside Libyan cities to give freedom to the Libyan people to choose," said Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the opposition's interim governing council. "The world will see that they will choose freedom."

He spoke at a press conference with U.N. envoy Abdelilah Al-Khatib. Al-Khatib met Libyan officials in Tripoli on Thursday before holding talks with rebels in hopes of reaching a political solution.

The U.N. resolution that authorized international airstrikes against Libya called for Gadhafi and the rebels to end hostilities. Gadhafi announced a cease-fire immediately but has shown no sign of heeding it.

His forces continue to attack rebels in the east, which is largely controlled by the opposition, and have besieged the only major rebel-held city in the west, Misrata.

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