NATO admits Libya strike, China hosts rebel leader

The visit comes as Beijing intensifies its involvement in efforts to resolve the crisis in Libya.

Sorman: NATO has admitted carrying out an air strike on a military target west of Tripoli that the Libyan regime alleges killed 15 people, while China on Tuesday hosted a senior rebel leader.

NATO, reversing an initial denial, acknowledged its warplanes early on Monday hit Sorman but insisted the target was military, a precision air strike against a "high-level" command and control node.

The Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said 15 people, including three children, were killed in the attack, which he slammed as a "cowardly terrorist act which cannot be justified."

Ibrahim said the attack was on an estate of a veteran comrade of leader Moamer Gaddafi but Canadian Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, commander of NATO operations in Libya, insisted the military was targeted.

"This strike will greatly degrade Gaddafi regime forces` ability to carry on their barbaric assault against the Libyan people," said Bouchard.

"Wherever Gaddafi tries to hide his command and control facilities, we will find them and destroy them."

A NATO official said the alliance was aware of regime allegations that 15 people, including three children, were killed but had no way of verifying them.

Another official had said earlier the alliance had not conducted any air strikes in the Sorman area, 70 kilometres (45 miles) from Tripoli.

Journalists escorted there by authorities saw damaged buildings on the sprawling estate of Khuwildi Hemidi, who served on the Revolution Command Council Gaddafi created when he seized power in 1969.

Reporters were also taken to Sabratha hospital some 10 kilometres from Sorman, where a correspondent saw nine bodies, including two children. They also saw body parts including a child`s head.

The new Libyan claim of civilian deaths came just hours after NATO acknowledged that one of its missiles had gone astray early on Sunday, hitting a residential neighbourhood of Tripoli.

Reporters were shown the bodies of five of the nine people Libyan officials said were killed in that strike, including a woman and two toddlers.

Rebels fighting Gaddafi’s four-decade rule blamed the veteran strongman for the deaths, charging that his forces deliberately stashed arms in schools and mosques.

"We are sorry for the loss of civilian life," said rebel spokesman Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, adding: "We hold the Gaddafi regime responsible for having placed military armaments and rocket launchers near civilian areas."

Italy warned that NATO`s accidental killing of civilians was endangering the alliance`s credibility.

"NATO`s credibility is at risk," Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

"We cannot run the risk of killing civilians. This is not good at all."

At the Luxembourg meeting, the EU foreign ministers urged the use of frozen funds to finance Libya`s opposition.

The bloc said in a statement that it "acknowledges the urgent financial needs of the Transitional National Council" (TNC) and said the aid "where possible" could include "the use of frozen Libyan funds," while respecting international law.

On Monday, the central bank in the United Arab Emirates froze the assets of 19 Libyan figures in line with UN sanctions against Gaddafi’s regime.

The rebels have warned they are running out of money as their struggle enters a fifth month and called on governments in the NATO-led coalition to make good their promises of funds.

They have not yet received any of the roughly one billion dollars promised by international donors earlier this month, and urged benefactors to make good on their promises to provide funds, Ghoga said.

In Beijing, the foreign ministry said in a brief statement that Mahmud Jibril, the top foreign affairs official in the Libyan opposition`s National Transitional Council, was due in China on Tuesday.

The visit comes as Beijing intensifies its involvement in efforts to resolve the crisis in the oil-rich north African state.

Jibril is scheduled to stay in China for two days, the foreign ministry said, without giving further details.

Earlier this month, China -- which has significant economic interests in Libya -- said it would welcome visits by the rebels.

Chinese diplomats have so far held two confirmed meetings with NTC head Mustapha Abdul-Jalil -- one in Doha and one in the eastern Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelati al-Obeidi also spent three days in Beijing earlier this month discussing ways to resolve the crisis, with China insisting a ceasefire should be the "top priority" of both sides.

Bureau Report

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