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Libyan Rebels Retake Western Mountain Town

Rebel fighters patrol in the desert south of the Libyan rebel-held town of Chakchuk in the Western Mountains, some 160 km (99.4 miles) southwest of Tripoli, June 4, 2011.

Libyan rebels say they have seized the western mountain town of Yafran from forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi after NATO airstrikes last week destroyed key government military targets, enabling opposition forces to advance.

Ethnic Berber fighters, who have joined the anti-government rebellion, retook Yafran, about 100 kilometers southwest of Tripoli, on Monday. Pro-Gadhafi forces had attacked the western mountain region after local Berbers rose up against government troops at the beginning of the uprising.

Media reports say government forces have left the town and that rebel flags could be seen along with defaced images of Gadhafi. Last Thursday, British warplanes destroyed two government tanks and two armored personnel carriers in Yafran.

Diplomatic efforts are continuing Tuesday, as a special envoy sent by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is set to meet with members of the rebel Transitional National Council in the eastern city of Benghazi.

China's foreign ministry says one of its diplomats based in Egypt also recently held talks with the rebel group. The ministry said in a statement Tuesday that Libya's foreign minister is making a three-day visit to Beijing, but did not offer any details about the trip.

China and Russia both abstained when the U.N. Security Council voted in March to establish a no-fly zone over Libya, and have called for a negotiated solution to the conflict.

NATO planes have kept up pressure on the Mr. Gadhafi, targeting sites around Tripoli on Monday.

In the rebel-held east, Libyan forces fired rockets into the front-line town of Ajdabiya. The Associated Press reported that after the strike, opposition fighters pursued government forces west to Brega, where two rebels were killed by loyalist shelling.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he would use the occasion of a defense ministers meeting Wednesday to repeat calls for the alliance to step up involvement in the Libya operation.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters in London on Sunday that the campaign against pro-Gadhafi forces is intensifying. But he rejected suggestions that it has strayed from the U.N. mandate to protect civilians.

Hague defended the use of British and French attack helicopters, which were employed Saturday for the first time. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov warned, however, that use of the helicopters puts NATO "one step" closer to a ground operation.

Russia abstained when the U.N. Security Council voted in March to establish a no-fly zone over Libya. It repeatedly has called for a negotiated solution to the conflict.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent a special envoy, Mikhail Margelov, to Benghazi, where he plans to meet Tuesday with members of the rebel Transitional National Council.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.