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NATO: both sides are talking in Sirte, Libya
NATO says rebels and loyalists are talking in Sirte, Gadhafi's last major stronghold
By The Associated Press

BRUSSELS (AP) ' Rebels and loyalists in and around Sirte, Libya, Moammar Gadhafi's last major bastion of support, are engaged in discussions in a bid to minimize civilian casualties as power changes hands, NATO said Tuesday.

Col. Roland Lavoie, a NATO spokesman, also said Tripoli, the capital, and its environs are "essentially freed." The two municipal airports are now secure and "Tripoli port is returning to a normal state," he said.

But Lavoie sought to strike a balance between saying Gadhafi's regime is virtually finished and said Gadhafi still has the ability to project power and harm civilians throughout Libya ' which is the justification for continued NATO air strikes in the country.

The Gadhafi regime is "collapsing and rapidly losing control on multiple fronts," Lavoie said, but Gadhafi is still displaying the ability to command and control his forces, and loyalist troops are "not in disarray."

Gadhafi has apparently fled Tripoli and gone into hiding, his whereabouts unknown, as members of his family have fled to neighboring Algeria, the spokesman said.

Lavoie also appeared to struggle to explain how NATO strikes were protecting civilians at this stage in the conflict. Asked about NATO's assertion that it hit 22 armed vehicles near Sirte on Monday, he was unable to say how the vehicles were threatening civilians, or whether they were in motion or parked.

Regarding talks between pro- and anti-Gadhafi forces, Lavoie said he would not discount the possibility that control of Sirte could change from Gadhafi to anti-Gadhafi control peacefully.

"We have seen dialogues in several villages that were freed. I'm not saying with no hostilities, but with minimal hostilities," he said.

NATO's role will continue as long as civilians in the country are under threat, he said.

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