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Monday, April 18, 2011

Thousands of Libyans flee remote western area-report

Tunis (ANTARA News/Reuters) - Some 11,000 Libyans have fled a remote and mountainous western region, where government forces are fighting rebels, and crossed into Tunisia over the last week, Tunisia`s state TAP news agency reported on Monday.

It said 3,000 people, including women and children, had arrived in the last two days alone at the southern Tunisian border town of Dehiba, fleeing "intense bombing" that had destroyed many houses.

The violence in the Western Mountains region, a sparsely populated area, has received little of the international attention given to attacks on cities on the coast such as Misrata and Ajdabiyah.

The region -- which includes the towns of Nalut, Kalaa, Yafran and Zintan -- is populated by Berbers, a group ethnically distinct from most Libyans and traditionally viewed with suspicion by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

When people in the eastern city of Benghazi revolted against Gaddafi`s four-decade rule in February, residents in the Western Mountains region, southwest of Tripoli, joined in.

TAP said the Libyans were staying in camps or with Tunisian families in different towns. It said one Libyan man, who had fled to Tunisia with his family, was buried on Sunday after succumbing to injuries sustained in the clashes.

One man in Nalut told Reuters that pro-Gaddafi forces had shelled the area on Monday.

"The rebels and pro-Gaddafi forces have been fighting fierce battles on the outskirts of the city since midday," the resident, Mohamed, said by phone. "I heard that two people were killed today in shelling by pro-Gaddafi forces."

Libyan officials deny attacking civilians, and say they are waging a battle against armed criminal gangs and al Qaeda sympathisers who, they say, are trying to destroy the country.

Mohamed, the Nalut resident, said three quarters of Nalut`s population had fled the violence to neighbouring Tunisia.

"The hospital is open and there are doctors but they have little supplies," he said.

People who arrived last week in Tunisia from the Western Mountains region told Reuters that Gaddafi`s forces were shelling homes, poisoning wells and threatening to rape women in the region.

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