US launches anti-Gaddafi Africa offensive

The United States has launched a diplomatic offensive against Libya among African nations as Tripoli accused NATO of a "massacre" of 85 villagers in air strikes in support of rebels.

Meanwhile, Libyan state television broadcast images of a man it says is Muammar Gaddafi's youngest son, footage that looks to undercut rebel claims of his death at a time when the opposition is showing signs of strain and disarray six months into its battle with the Libyan leader.

American diplomats are visiting several African countries as part of efforts to urge leaders to press Muammar Gaddafi to leave power immediately, officials in Washington said on Tuesday.

Several African states, having benefited financially from Gaddafi's policies, have been reluctant to call for him to step down, and have criticised the NATO-led military campaign in Libya.

Gene Cretz, the US ambassador who left Tripoli after Gaddafi launched his bloody crackdown on the opposition in February, and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Donald Yamamoto arrived Monday in Addis Ababa, headquarters of the African Union, State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said.

They "are in Africa to meet with African Union members to discuss the crisis in Libya and the need for Gaddafi to relinquish power now", he told Agence France-Presse.

Gaddafi, meanwhile, said world powers would be held responsible for the "ugly massacre committed by NATO" on the village of Majer where 85 people were killed, Libya's official JANA news agency reported.

Majer, east of Tripoli, was attacked late on Monday to try to help rebel fighters enter the government-held city from the south, government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said.

"After the first three bombs dropped at around 11pm on Monday, many residents of the area ran to the bombed houses to try to save their loved ones. Three more bombs struck," he told reporters on an organised visit.

Thirty-three children, 32 women and 20 men from 12 families were killed in the "massacre", Mussa said.

Reporters attended the funerals of victims and saw 28 bodies buried at the local cemetery where hundreds of people vented their anger against NATO.

NATO, which launched its air campaign at the end of March under UN resolutions to protect civilians against Gaddafi's forces, insisted the raids were "legitimate" and said it had no evidence of civilian deaths.

"We do not have evidence of civilian casualties at this stage," the NATO spokesman for the alliance's Libya campaign, Colonel Roland Lavoie, said from his Naples headquarters.

The NATO raids were against two former farms used for military purposes by Gaddafi forces, he said.

"This was a military facility clearly ... NATO takes extreme precaution not to harm innocent civilians living or working nearby."

The images broadcast on state television of a man said to be Gaddafi's youngest son, Khamis Gaddafi, showed him visiting several people wounded in a NATO airstrike.

Khamis Gaddafi's appearance at a Tripoli hospital on Tuesday, if genuine, would make the first time he has been seen in public since the reports of his death.

The rebels had claimed on Friday that the younger Gaddafi was killed in a NATO airstrike on the western front-line town of Zlitan.

Tripoli had dismissed the report as an attempt to deflect attention from the killing of the rebels' top military chief, Abdel-Fattah Younis, possibly by other rebels.

Younis' body was found two weeks ago, dumped outside the rebel's de facto eastern capital, Benghazi, along with the bodies of two colonels who were his top aides. They had been shot and their bodies burned.

Tensions over Younis' death spurred the leaders to sack their own cabinet late Monday and on Tuesday order the movement's various armed factions to integrate in hopes of imposing some order.

The footage of Khamis Gaddafi could add to the troubles of the opposition, raising questions about the veracity of their reports even as they try to shore up their image after Younis' killing through the cabinet reshuffle.

[Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, AFP, Sydney, 10Aug11]

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