Rebels say Gadhafi forces bobbytrap oil installations

Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi’s troops have boobytrapped petroleum installations in the strategic oil port of Brega so they can be blown up if his regime loses the town, a top rebel official said Thursday.

MADRID, Spain — Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi’s troops have boobytrapped petroleum installations in the strategic oil port of Brega so they can be blown up if his regime loses the town, a top rebel official said Thursday.

The Libyan leader also delivered yet another defiant speech in which he didn’t foresee any talks with rebels between now and the end of time.

“I will not speak to them, there will be no words between us until the Day of Judgement,” Gadhafi said in a speech addressing crowds in his hometown of Sirte in the centre of the country. “It is the voice of the Libyan people, free and defiant, that will respond to them.”

The address is the latest in a series of speeches accompanied by large rallies in different cities across the country over the past week to bolster support for the regime in the face of international backing for the rebels.

Mahmoud Jibril, the rebels’ diplomatic chief, said Gadhafi’s forces have boobytrapped oil fields. He did not state which fields.

Although Brega is a key oil processing and shipment hub, the fields that feed it lie far to the south in the Libyan desert. It does, however, contain massive containers filled with oil and natural gas read to be offloaded onto ships.

“Unfortunately, Brega is a big minefield right now,” Jibril told reporters after meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez. “We discovered that they planted mines all over the place. Even some oil establishments, some oil fields, have been full of bombs, explosives.”

Rebels and pro-Gadhafi forces have been locked in a stalemate, despite a NATO air campaign against Gadhafi’s forces. Rebels hold most of eastern Libya, but their push to seize Brega since last week unraveled Tuesday when 27 rebels were killed in shelling by Gadhafi’s troops.

With the NATO-led air campaign entering its fifth month, Britain’s military reported its first death related to the campaign after an airman died in a traffic accident in southern Italy. The Ministry of Defence said Thursday that an airman from the Royal Air Force’s No. 2 Squadron died in the Abruzzo region when his vehicle went off the road.

Rebel forces have since pulled back from the city amid hopes that Gadhafi’s forces will surrender, and Jibril said rebel fighters “are circulating Brega from all fronts right now.” Rebel commanders have said mine fields laid by Gadhafi’s troops have hampered their advance.

In Libya, local medic Mohammed Idris said a mine killed one rebel and injured four on Thursday.

The Libyan government had no immediate comment on the rebel accusations, but on Monday, spokesman Moussa Ibrahim sounded a defiant note about the oil city.

“We will turn Brega into hell, we will not give Brega up even if it causes the death of thousands of rebels and the destruction of the city,” Ibrahim said.

Jibril said the boobytrapping of oil facilities and fields is a signal that Gadhafi’s regime fears it can’t hold Brega much longer “and the only course they have embarked on is to destroy everything.”

Jibril also said that Libya’s National Transitional Council wants foreign firms like Spanish energy company Repsol SA, which abandoned the country when fighting broke out, to return and rebuild their damaged installations — and to allow Spain’s government to deduct those costs from the frozen assets.

Last week’s recognition of the council as Libya’s legitimate government will potentially free up tens of billions of dollars in cash from frozen Libyan assets that the rebels desperately need, but Jimenez suggested that assets in Spain won’t be immediately released.

Instead, she said Spanish officials and Libyan opposition officials will meet soon to determine whether the Spain assets could be used as collateral to provide the rebels with credit.

About $30 billion in Gahdafi-regime assets are frozen in American banks, and other countries hold billions more.

Jibril declined comment on the value of Libyan assets frozen in Spain, but said they consist of property, bank stock and other investments.

Libyan opposition officials have also been tracking down additional assets held around the world by people close to Gadhafi’s regime, Jibril said. He characterized those amounts as a “flood” but did not provide amounts or describe them in detail.

“It seems that these assets in general, whether liquid or real estate, are mushrooming all over the place in Africa, Asia, Latin America” and Europe, Jibril said.

The effort to find more assets connected to Gadhafi’s regime will continue so the opposition can try to claim “assets that belong to the Libyan people,” he said.

Jibril’s visit to Spain came a day after France’s foreign minister suggested that a possible way out of Libya’s civil war would be to allow Moammar Gadhafi to stay in the country if he relinquishes power.

Jimenez said Spain’s position is that it is up to Libya’s people to decide whether Gadhafi should stay or go, echoing comments issued a day earlier by the White House spokesman Jay Carney.

Italy also voiced support for the idea that Libya’s people should decide on Gadhafi’s future after quitting power, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini’s office said.

Gadhafi has insisted he will neither step down nor flee the country he has led for more than four decades.