Rebels say Gaddafi troops are defecting
Benghazi - More than 20 troops from Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces have defected from a brigade based in southern Libya and joined the rebellion, rebels said on Monday.
Four of the men were presented to reporters in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi on Monday. Rebels said they had escaped from Gaddafi's unit based in the Katroun region of southern Libya this month.
“We have now defected from the regime. The Gaddafi regime has lost all credibility. Therefore we declare that we offer our services to the National Transitional Council in Benghazi,” said Major Lamin Sidi Ibrahim al Tabouwi, one of the men.
There was no way to immediately verify their stories. Rebels said a total of 22 soldiers and officers as well as three civilians had escaped together from the southern unit.
Asked on the sidelines of the conference to prove his identity, one of the officers, Captain Ahmed Salah al Tabouwi, showed a battered national identification card which confirmed his name and date of birth.
Defections of army officers and government officials have put pressure on Gaddafi's grip on power following months of fighting between his troops and rebel forces trying to oust him and who are entrenched in eastern Libya.
The rebel leadership in Benghazi has said all Gaddafi loyalists who decide to surrender will be pardoned and given a chance to start a new life under its rule, which it says will be based on democratic principles.
The four men said they defected from their unit with the help of local opposition fighters who drove them across the desert along Libya's border with Chad towards a town where they were eventually picked up by the rebel Martyr Ahmed brigade.
They said they decided to escape as a group months ago but were unable to do so earlier because southern Libya is tightly controlled by Gaddafi's troops. They said many other officers and soldiers who tried to defect had been captured.
“Our direct officers gave us orders such as, catch 'those rats',” said al Tabouwi, a white cotton turban wrapped round his head. “We were ordered to show no mercy, not to respect their (rebels') rights.” - Reuters