25 January 2012
Libyan Defence Minister Osama Juili went to the former Moamer Kadhafi stronghold of Bani Walid on Wednesday after five people were killed in fighting there on Monday.
"Osama Juili is there, he's touring the town," a local official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
A member of the powerful Zintan Brigade, which helped defeat the Kadhafi diehards in the desert oasis town after heavy fighting last October, confirmed the visit.
"The defence minister is there, he's negotiating and we will find a solution to the problem. If not, we are ready to fight," said Abdullah al-Mahdi, whose helicopter landed by the road outside the town to pick up wounded.
Local officials said the clashes began with an attack by Kadhafi loyalists on a base of former rebels, a claim denied by Interior Minister Fawzi Abdelali late on Monday.
"I think the town is under the control of Kadhafi supporters," Mahdi told AFP on Wednesday.
Bani Walid resident Abdel Hamid Rahim, who was leaving the town for the capital Tripoli 170 kilometres (110 miles) to the northwest, said there was an uneasy calm in the town.
"The situation is calm today, but you could call it the calm before the storm," he told AFP.
"Kadhafi supporters have put up roadblocks in the town. They're controlling the traffic."
An AFP journalist at a checkpoint controlled by the former rebels, around 60 kilometres (35 miles) outside Bani Walid, saw around a dozen vehicles with anti-aircraft guns and filled with ex-rebels heading for the town.
They refused to say what their mission was.
Journalists were kept at the checkpoint for two hours, with the former rebels citing "the dangerous situation" in Bani Walid.
The town was one of the last pro-Kadhafi bastions to fall in the bloody uprising against the despot.
Its capture was followed days later by the fall of his hometown Sirte in a battle which also led to Kadhafi's killing on October 20 and marked the "liberation" of Libya. - ANP/AFP
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