Tripoli: A Libyan woman who claimed she was gang-raped by Muammar Gaddafi`s troops was deported from Qatar where she sought refuge, and is now in Benghazi, said a UN official on Thursday.
Her sudden expulsion cast light again on one of the most widely covered incidents of alleged abuses by Gaddafi`s forces, as NATO continued its relentless nightly bombing raids on Libyan military and security bases, backing rebels who are trying to unseat Gaddafi after a four-decade dictatorship.
A series of at least 10 NATO strikes hit targets in and around the Libyan capital early Friday. The attacks targeted military barracks close to Gaddafi`s sprawling compound in central Tripoli, a police station and a military base, said a government official speaking on customary condition of anonymity. He said it was not immediately clear if there were any casualties.
The US government on Thursday expressed concern for the safety of the Libyan woman, Eman al-Obeidi.
In March, al-Obeidi rushed into Tripoli`s Rixos Hotel where all foreign correspondents are forced to stay while covering the part of Libya under Gaddafi`s control, and shouted out her story of being stopped at a checkpoint, dragged away and gang-raped by soldiers.
As she spoke emotionally, and as photographers and reporters recorded her words, government minders, whose job is to escort reporters around the area, jumped her and dragged her away.
She disappeared for several days, then turned up in Tunisia and later Qatar. She was heard from little until Thursday, when she was suddenly expelled from Qatar and ended up in Benghazi, the Libyan rebels` de facto capital. No explanation was forthcoming from Qatar.
Rebel spokesman Jalal el-Gallal said al-Obeidi arrived in Benghazi by plane. "She`s welcome to stay, this is her country," el-Gallal said.
The UN Refugee Agency`s Sybella Wilkes said al-Obeidi should have been allowed to stay in Qatar, and her deportation runs contrary to international law.
Al-Obeidi "is a recognised refugee, and we don`t consider there is any good reason for her deportation”, Wilkes said.
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the US was "monitoring the situation" and working to ensure al-Obeidi`s safety.
"We`re concerned for her safety, given all that`s happened to her. And we`re going to work to make sure that she`s kept safe, first and foremost, and that she finds appropriate asylum," Toner told reporters in Washington on Thursday.
Libyan authorities have alternately labelled al-Obeidi a drunk, a prostitute and a thief.
Al-Obeidi has maintained that she was targeted by Gaddafi`s troops because she is from Benghazi, the rebel stronghold.
Al-Obeidi`s rape claim could not be independently verified.
Human rights violations are one aspect of the rebels` complaints against the Gaddafi regime. This week a report by a UN body said it found evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity by Gaddafi`s government, and also charged that the rebels have committed abuses.
Four of the early morning blasts on Friday shook and rattled the city, targeting an area where military barracks are located, said the government official. Those barracks, which had been hit in the past, are close to the sprawling compound of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in central Tripoli.
The blasts shook windows of the hotel where reporters stay in Tripoli. The official said it wasn`t immediately clear if there were any casualties.
Six earlier strikes targeted a police station and a military base outside of Tripoli in the areas of Hera and Aziziya, said the official.
The strikes appeared to be the heaviest to strike Tripoli since South African President Jacob Zuma visited Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in the capital last week in an effort to find a peaceful resolution to the country`s crisis.
The conflict in Libya is nearly four months along, but the situation on the ground appears mostly stalemated. NATO airstrikes have kept the outgunned rebels from being overrun, but the rebels have been unable to mount an effective offensive against Gaddafi`s better equipped armed forces.
Gaddafi`s regime has been slowly crumbling from within. A significant number of Army officers and several Cabinet ministers have defected, and most have expressed support for the opposition, but Gaddafi`s hold on power shows little sign of loosening.
NATO warplanes bomb targets in Tripoli, including Gaddafi`s sprawling Bab al-Aziziya residential and command compound, on a nightly basis.
Gaddafi has been seen in public rarely and heard even less frequently since a NATO airstrike on his compound killed one of his sons on April 30. Questions are arising about the physical and mental state of the 69-year-old dictator, who has ruled Libya since 1969.
Rebels have turned down initiatives calling for ceasefires, insisting that Gaddafi and his sons must relinquish power and leave the country.