Image: Libyan fighters chant after taking control of loyalist villages
Francois Mori  /  AP
Libyan fighters chants slogans as they take control of Moammar Gadhafi loyalists' villages in the desert some 750 km south of Tripoli, at Gohta, north of the southern city of Sahba on Sunday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 9/19/2011 2:46:02 PM ET 2011-09-19T18:46:02

Facing little resistance, revolutionary fighters captured the airport and other locations in a southern desert city that is considered one of the last remaining strongholds of Moammar Gadhafi's forces, fighters said.

The capture of Sabha would be a major victory for Libya's new rulers, who have struggled to rout forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi a month after sweeping into Tripoli and forcing the ousted leader into hiding.

A push to capture Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte and the mountain enclave of Bani Walid have stalled as well-armed forces loyal to the fugitive leader have fought back fiercely with rockets and other heavy weaponry.

"Our flags are waving there over the airport and other parts of Sabha," Col. Ahmed Bani, the military spokesman for the transitional government, told reporters in Tripoli.

The airport is about four miles from the center of Sabha, 400 miles (650 kilometers) south of Tripoli.

Salam Kara, the Benghazi-based spokesman for Sabha's local council, said revolutionary forces also had seized an old fort as well as a convention center and a hospital inside the city.

"It is a great achievement by the rebels from all over the south and led by the rebels from inside of Sabha," he said, predicting more good news later Monday. "The resistance is not strong because Sabha's rebels have been holding protests for a long time and just needed help from outside."

Meanwhile, France denied on Monday that it had mercenaries in Libya, after Gadhafi's loyalists said they had captured 17 foreigners -- some British and French -- in the fight for a town still held by the ousted leader's followers.

The claim by Gaddafi's spokesman Moussa Ibrahim that foreign security personnel had been captured in the battle for the pro-Gaddafi bastion Bani Walid could not be verified and no immediate proof was presented.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Interactive: Libya uprising: The latest

Video: Stubborn resistance in Gadhafi stronghold

  1. Closed captioning of: Stubborn resistance in Gadhafi stronghold

    >>> we have news from libya . the united nations today gave the rebels a strong show of support handing them libya 's seat at the u.n. on the ground in libya as we hear from mike taibbi the rebels' work still isn't done.

    >> reporter: in the gadhafi stronghold of bani walid forces moved in with guns blazing but were held at baby relentless return fire .

    >> they are cowards. all they do is shoot and take off.

    >> reporter: the stubborn resistance in gadhafi 's hometown where rebels have taken the airport but not the town and holdouts in the sahara where it is believed gadhafi and his contingent are hiding out. the man leading the hunt for gadhafi told nbc news they are getting close.

    >> they are going back and forth, not in one place. i think he's now under our surveillance. i think within the next ten days something should happen.

    >> reporter: in tripoli it's hard to tell the war is still going on or it was less than four weeks ago gadhafi was driven from power. it is a city pulsing with life, the markets thriving, streets cleaned, beaches packed, oil tankers waiting to be filled.

    >> we look forward now. it's a new libya now.

    >> reporter: in fact, most of libya is secure now, safe enough for a visit from british prime minister david cameron and french president nicolas sarkozy , architects of the nato bombing campaign that made the march to tripoli possible. they were given a hero's welcome both in tripoli and benghazi. still, cameron addressed gadhafi whose mythic power is not yet extinguished.

    >> it is over. give up.

    >> reporter: because the fighting won't be over, liberation won't be complete until gadhafi is no longer

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