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Mon 30 May 2011 09:33 PM

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Over 100 Libyan army members defect from Gaddafi

Eight Libyan army officers appear in Rome saying they are part of much larger military defection

Over 100 Libyan army members defect from Gaddafi
Libyan rebels head to the front line in the outskirts of the eastern city of Ajdabiya. (AFP/Getty Images)

Eight Libyan army officers appeared in Rome on Monday, saying they were part of a group of as many as 120 military officials and soldiers who defected from Muammar Gaddafi's side in recent days.

The eight officers - five generals, two colonels and a major - spoke at a news conference organised by the Italian government, which is one of a handful of countries that has recognized the Libyan rebel movement fighting Gaddafi as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.

Libyan UN ambassador Abdurrahman Shalgam, who has also defected from Gaddafi, said all 120 of the military personnel were outside Libya now but he did not say where they were.

Earlier, Al Arabiya television said 120 Libyan officers had arrived in Rome. The Libyan ambassador to Rome, who has also defected from Gaddafi, said only the eight present at the hastily called news conference were in the Italian capital.

The eight officers said they defected in protest at Gaddafi's actions against his own people, saying there had been a lot of killing of civilians and violence against women.

They said that Gaddafi's armed forces' campaign against rebels was rapidly weakening.

British-based Libyan opposition activist and editor Ashour Shamis said he was aware of reports from opposition sources that eight high ranking Libyan officers including four generals had defected and were in Rome.

"This will create its own momentum against Gaddafi, increasing the pressure on him," he said. He said he had no word on the defection of as many as 100 officers.

Noman Benotman, another opposition activist who works as an analyst for Britain's Quilliam Foundation think tank, said he had heard that many officers had defected, without elaborating.

Every individual defection was the result of a combination of factors, he said, but the latest group had been spurred largely by tensions arising from the appointment of what he called newcomers to senior positions in the security services.

The behaviour of these men, many of them relatively youthful Gaddafi loyalists in their mid-30s, had stirred anger and dismay among the army's officer ranks, who regarded their actions as overbearing and brutal, Benotman said.

"The army officers feel they are being watched all the time. They feel uncomfortable because they feel a lack of trust. So at the first chance of defection they took it," he said.

He added that many of the newly appointed senior security officials were Gaddafi relatives.

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