NTC forces have faced stiffer resistance than expected in their efforts to take Bani Walid and Sirte [EPA]
Libya’s interim rulers are claiming that their fighters have overrun the key southern city of Sabha, one of the last strongholds of forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.
« We are in complete control of the city of Sabha. Everybody, including [those who were] pro-Gaddafi, are now with the revolution, » Abdelmajid Seif Ennasr, an official for the National Transitional Council (NTC) in Sabha, told the AFP news agency on Wednesday.
He added that the NTC fighters were only encountering « resistance from some individuals here and there ».
« Sabha is totally under the control of the revolutionaries, » said Mohammed Wardugu, the Benghazi spokesman of the « Desert Shield Brigade » that is fighting in the region.
On Tuesday, Wardugu said the NTC forces had taken control of the airport and a garrison in Sabha and forced 300 pro-Gaddafi mercenaries to flee before capturing 150 of his loyalists.
NTC forces have faced stiffer resistance than expected in their efforts to take Bani Walid and Sirte, two other strongholds of the toppled Libyan leader, and have had several major assaults repulsed by heavy fire from pro-Gaddafi forces.
Many residents of Sabha fear reprisals from the NTC because of a belief that many fought as Gaddafi mercenaries during the civil war.
Sabha, the largest city in the Libyan desert, is home to 100,000 people and an important military base, making it strategically vital.
There were reports earlier that Gaddafi himself may be hiding in the town, along with Saif al-Islam, his most politically prominent son, but NTC fighters in Sabha have reported no signs of them.