LIBYA’S oil-rich eastern town of Ras Lanuf has become a major battleground between Muammar Gaddafi and opposition forces where air strikes have intensified from the strongman fighting to stay in power.
At stake are thousands of lives and Ras Lanuf’s oil wealth – it has a 220,000 barrels per day refinery, one of the largest in the country and a major export terminal that handles a substantial amount of Libya’s oil output.
The opposition force is fighting a difficult battle, they are poorly equipped and under trained.
In Ras Lanuf, the opposition forces displayed incredible courage, standing unwavering out in the open desert without any cover from Gaddafi’s bomber planes, firing into the skies with old anti-aircraft machines.
The planes could be heard hovering above the skies continuously during the day.
The men are also without any commanders, a highly-spirited but disorganised force who make decisions at each individual’s discretion.
“There are no commanders in Ras Lanuf,” says a 28-year-old rebel who has been fighting for three days.
“We take individual decisions based on our instincts for the common goal,” adds the rebel who used to work for the government.
The mostly young men are aware of the danger from the skies - 20 people have been killed from the air strikes in the past four days.
“The planes are flying back and forth.
“When the bomb lands, it makes a three-metre deep crater on the ground,” said the rebel.
The rebels, by dint of determination and some luck, have been able to shoot down some planes.
“The pilots were not Libyans. There has been a Syrian and also a Serbian,” says the rebel.
The opposition believe Gaddafi is planning a big offensive against them but they don’t know when.
“Gaddafi has said he will fight till the last drop of his blood. So will we,” said the rebel.
According to the rebels, Ras Lanuf is firmly in their hands and Libyans have replaced foreign workers who used to run the refinery.
“The refinery is now being run by Libyans who are from the oil industry,“ says a local resident.
No one can give any estimates at what capacity Ras Lanuf is currently.
Ras Lanuf and its oil resources is of great strategic importance to Gaddafi as well as the rebels.
Whoever wins Ras Lanuf will have in their hands oil wealth which will give them political and economical leverage to negotiate their future, whether within or outside of the country.
Libya’s produces sweet, crude oil, one of the highest grade in the world which is even higher than Saudi Arabia’s, and is much sought after.
Last year, Italy, Germany and France imported more than half of Libyan’s oil. The distruption in Libya’s oil supply, which is the world’s 12 largest producer, has sent oil prices skyrocketing to over US$114 a barrel since the crisis began.
The rebels are targeting Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, which comes after Ras Lanuf and a town of called Bin Jawad where they face intense firing from government forces.
It is unclear who holds Bin Jawad at this time but the opposition forces claim a massacre took place there over the weekend.
Gaddafi’s forces are believed to have killed 50 rebels in Bin Jawad as they advanced on the town.
“Another 700 men are missing,” the rebel claims.
As US and Britain call for a UN decision on the no-fly zone yesterday, many are expecting more to die in a conflict which is turning bloodier by the day.