Osun PDP In Confusion, Strategises For LG Polls

•Sets Up Reconciliatory Committee

Leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Osun State has been in utter confusion in recent times, as solution eludes the party hierarchy on how to bring the various factions of the party together with a view to creating problems for the current administration in the state.

The party was factionalised at the tail-end of the Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola-led administration in 2010, before it was ousted by the Court of Appeal that sat in Ibadan, which further deepened the festering crisis in the party. However, the ascension of Barrister Sunday Ojo-Williams to the post of Acting Chairman of the party in the state, was perceived as an insult in some quarters within the party, with the feelings that he lacks the qualifications to lead the party and unite its various warring factions.

Since the inauguration of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola’s administration in the state, the party had hardly taken a common stance on issues regarding the state and the party affairs, even in its capacity as an opposition party.
Sources within the party revealed that the major hurdle currently facing the party remains that of trust, the medium reliably gathered.

According to the source, the PDP chieftains had initially thought that Aregbesola would adopt violence in dealing with members of the party in a bid to avenge the violence unleashed on him and members of his party during the struggle to reclaim his mandate. However, Aregbesola showed maturity and embraced them, thereby appealing to their sentiment and further made it difficult for the party to have an excuse to rally against his administration.

The PDP, according to findings, is in confusion as an opposition party in the state, especially at a time when members of the party in Ile-Ife and Ede, the party’s stronghold while in power, are beneficiaries of the present government’s large-heartedness.

It was gathered that a former chairman of the party in the state had since distanced himself from the plan of the party to use students and health workers, who were on strike, to destabilize the state.
Furthermore, leaders and members of the party knew that the crisis before the Federal Government is beyond giving a crisis-ridden party any support against a ruling party in the state.

Checks further showed that some members of the party are planning to desert the PDP for another party, ahead of the forthcoming local government elections in the state. The party, according to a reliable source, has inaugurated a reconciliatory committee headed by the former chairman of Osun State Broadcasting Commission (OSBC), Dr. Yemi Farounbi, to bring all the warring factions together.

Though the task is a daunting one, but the party is not relenting, as it is said to be very much interested in reviving all its secretariats across the state, which had gone into oblivion since the inception of the administration of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in the state.

Part of the task of the committee was to bring back all the PDP chieftains that had since abandoned the party, even before the verdict of the court, as a result of governorship ambition that tore the party apart, because of the support a particular candidate enjoyed from the ousted governor.

Osun Frustrates Oyinlola’s Plans To Take Over Govt Property

The government of Osun State has cut the feathers of the ousted Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola over his alleged attempt to convert the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding to his personal property.

Addressing journalists after the Executive Council meeting in Osogbo last Wednesday, the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Sunday Akere, said that the council had reviewed the law establishing the centre, which had Oyinlola as the life chairman of the centre, which was financed with state funds.

He said that “in section 8 of the State Government of Osun Black Culture and International Understanding Law 2008, it was discovered that an attempt was made to turn the centre to a personal property of Oyinlola, which we see as executive lawlessness in the most crude and cruel form. “When you are saying that as the sitting governor, despite spending government fund to establish a centre for the state, you are still including it that you, as the governor will be the life chairman in your personal name as Olagunsoye Oyinlola.

“They even said in the law that in everything that is being done, he would pick two representatives from Olusegun Obasanjo Library in Abeokuta and Minister of Culture and Tourism would be on the board. We have seen clearly that the intention was to use government money to finance the project that you have the intention of cornering to be your personal property”, he noted.

The commissioner then stated that the state executive council had passed a resolution to amend the law. According to him, with the new correction to the law, the chairman of the board would be appointed by the governor and the Commissioner or Special Adviser in-charge of tourism and culture would also be member of the board. He also added that there would henceforth be two representatives from academia, four representatives of art and culture interest, while the Nigeria permanent delegate to UNESCO would also be a member of the board with two years tenure.

Boripe Sets To Disburse Funds To Aid Community Development As Caretaker Committee Starts Work

In a bid to spread development to the various towns and villages in Boripe Local Government Council Area of Osun State, the caretaker administration has concluded plans to disburse the sum of N3 Million as aid grant to help projects embarked upon by the different Community Development Associations (CDA) to bear fruits.

According to investigations and reports made available to OSUN DEFENDER COMMUNITY NEWS; towns like Oore, Ororuwo, Aagba, Iragbiji have started showing signs of positive changes due to this intervention. In Oore town; the CDA had embarked on the construction of a town hall and the extension of electricity supply with the installation of electric poles.

The task of the CDA in Ororuwo town was the construction of a modern town hall and bridge. Findings revealed that the hall had been completed and the commissioning of a bridge recently completed would take place soon. The Tailors Association of Iragbiji had also constructed an ultra-modern town hall, which had been officially commissioned at Idi Isakagba area.

While the electricity extension project in Oke-Abuja area recorded tremendous advancement with the procurement and installation of electric poles. The Community Development Officer in the council disclosed that the next step was for the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) to commence its own part of the job.

However, the palace of the Eesa of Agba was still under construction. The grant aid, according to some of the CDAs, is a welcome step that would further help them to better the lives of the people.

School For The Handicapped Gets Surprised Package

In order to bring solace the way of the physically-challenged and handicapped, a philanthropist and politician; Mr. Oyagbile Israel, on behalf of Osun State Governor Rauf Aregbesola has donated consumables and gift items to the students of the School for the Handicapped, Power-line Area, Osogbo.

Donating the gift items which included; bags of rice, cloth materials and bottles of vegetable oil, Mr. Oyagbile disclosed that the gesture was the brain-child of the Osun State governor; Mr. Rauf Aregbesola. According to him, Mr. Aregbesola believed in the even distribution of the dividends of democracy to every part of the state.

In his words, “the governor deemed it fit that something must be done for the handicapped and motherless babies and those that might have lost hope and that they should also realise that they have not been ignored”.
Mr. Oyagbile also revealed that the presentation would have taken place immediately because the fund had been released by the governor.

He added that it was the urgency at which the governor wanted the presentation to hold that initiated the presentation to the Osogbo School for the Handicapped.

The philanthropist assured that the presentation was not restricted to the school only, as they had been able to identify several places within the state, where they were people with disabilities.
He revealed that since they had been directed to extend the gesture to them, they had no other choice than to comply. The decision of the governor, according to him, was because the governor believed that for these physically-challenged people to deliver their best, they had to enjoy good nutrition through feeding and clean surroundings.

In his reply, the Head Teacher of the School, Prince Olasore, thanked both the governor, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola and Mr. Oyagbile Israel for the decision to start the presentation of the gift with the School for the Handicapped, Osogbo. Expressing his delight, the Principal stated that the move was the beginning of good things, adding that the gesture should be a continuous one.

The Principal admitted that he did not expect the gifts presentation from the governor because the past administration usually focused on the satisfaction of fellow politicians.He added that he was surprised to see the governor’s representatives and that the person behind the gifts presentation was the governor.

Ifelodun LG Assures On Health Care Provision

The provision of drugs, availability of bed spaces, hospital equipment and qualified health workers, were part of the problems the health workers in Ifelodun Local Government Council Area of Osun State encounter in the daily discharge of their duties.

This was made known by the Director of Primary Health Care, Dr. Adeoye during the inspection tour embarked upon by the Caretaker Committee Chairman of the local government council area, Honourable Sanusi Olayiwola Lawal and members of his team to the Comprehensive and Primary Health Centres within the council area. Dr. Adeoye noted that these problems were part of the challenges confronting his department and which they had had cause to complain to the local government authority on several occasions. He however maintained that the dearth of these equipment and professionals, had not in anyway affected the running and competence of the health workers.

Speaking at the Main Maternity Complex; the council boss reiterated the commitment of his administration towards the provision of hospital equipment, drugs and welfare of health officials within the council area.

He explained that it was the responsibility of every government to see to the health needs of its people at all levels. Honourable Sanusi used the avenue to dismiss insinuations that the state government was not interested in the welfare of its health workers, adding that the administration of Mr. Rauf Aregbesola was on top of the situation and health workers would soon smile.

In another development, Honourable Sanusi Olayiwola and his caretaker committee members also paid an assessment visit to the Ifelodun Local Government Library Building located within the Old Secretariat Complex, along Station Road, Ikirun. In his observation, the council boss noted that the library building was dilapidated as a result of neglect on the part of past administrations.

According to him, “I discovered that the whole building needs a complete overhauling as it has become dilapidated”. “The dilapidation, I perceived, might be due to long time neglect of development and on the part of past administrations”, he added.

He expressed his belief in the maintenance of a clean surrounding as a catalyst for easy understanding and assimilation by directing that the surroundings of the library building be made clean. Honourable Olayiwola assured that a major turn-around would be introduced soonest to elevate the standard of the local government library.

Eni Fears Largest Libyan Oilfield Is In Ruins

Italian oil major Eni fears its largest oilfield in Libya, known as Elephant, may be in ruins, which could dash hopes of a speedy return of Libyan supplies to global markets after months of war.“One volunteer went with a squad of 10 rebel fighters, who escorted him on a two-to-three-hour survey in which he took pictures of the mess,” Eni’s Libyan operations manager, Mustafa Abougfeefa, said in an interview.The field, which pumped 130,000 barrels of oil per day before the war, was found in ruins, with its airport completely destroyed along with crucial monitors and key electronic structures, he said.“We cannot promise the field will start producing before the end of the year. Gaddafi’s militia destroyed everything,” Abougfeefa said. The process could take even longer because the area remains a hotbed where clashes between rebel fighters and troops of former leader Muammar Gaddafi continue.An Eni spokeswoman in Italy later said the group had no information of any serious damage to the Elephant field.“We are still carrying out checks at the field but to date we are not aware of any heavy damage,” she told Reuters.The scale of damage discovered at El Feel, known as the Elephant field for its size, was a stark contrast to the conditions of Eni’s smaller Abu Attifel and Wafa fields, which have already started production at a combined rate of 76,000 bpd, around 30 percent below their pre-war output levels.Gas production at those fields is also ramping up, with flows from Abu Attifel near full at 180 MMScf/d and flows from Wafa at 315 MMScf/d, around 60 percent of pre-war output, according to a document emailed to Reuters.The Bouri field is due to restart production of both oil and gas by the end of the month, the operations manager said.STRUGGLE Attacks by Gaddafi loyalists, food shortages and accidents were a few of the risks braved by a team of locals at the Abu Attifel field, where a minimal amount of oil was pumped throughout most of the war in an effort to preserve the facilities.“We gave them all the support that was possible at the time, but there was no communication between the east and western parts of the country,” said Abougfeefa.Eni’s managers now must deal with reviving contracts, a new visa system and confusion over trade sanctions.Eni is side-stepping immigration issues by making provisions for foreign workers to operate out of Malta, but shipping continues to be a problem as waters used for commercial purposes are still classified as a war zone, keeping insurance rates high.Two executives are already based in Tripoli to help deal with the task of reviving the business over the next few weeks.“The administrative issues should have settled down by the end of the year,” said Abougfeefa, adding that key foreign workers had already returned and that a schedule for bringing the others back into the country was in place.

Libya Back To School, But Without Gaddafi Teachings

The Libyan schoolgirl can’t hide her giddiness as she sings a song with lyrics that would have been unthinkable just months ago.“Oh, Muammar the crazy,” she lilts, to applause from her classmates in the Al-Amir school in Benghazi. “How much he destroyed, how much he destroyed.”The school break has been longer than usual for many Libyan children this year. When the war against Gaddafi started, lessons stopped.Now, with the rebels victorious and a new government installed, the schools are gradually reopening. Security and funding are a worry, but a bigger task is reforming an education system dominated for decades by the teachings and the theories of an eccentric leader.Required reading in Gaddafi-era schools was his “Green Book,” containing the ousted ruler’s musings on politics, economics and everyday life. On their way to class pupils filed past portraits of the man they were instructed to call “our dear brother leader.”One of the first things the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) did after taking up arms against Gaddafi was set up a committee to expunge his “teachings” from the curriculum.“We have many changes this year, including even the names of the schools,” Fawzia Bouzeriba, a headteacher for 30 years, told Reuters.“The course of Al-Mujtama Al-Jamahiri (Society of the masses) inspired by the Green Book was abolished,” she said.Another Benghazi headmaster, Khadiga Al-Mismary, said many history lessons had been scrapped in their entirety — and for good. SOME CHILDREN STILL AT HOME Opening the schools on time has been difficult, with some badly damaged and others serving as makeshift prisons and hospitals.Safety is a concern, families have been displaced and many pupils have lost months of work.“We’re not beginning a new year yet, we’re going to complete the second semester of the last year and then we’ll start a new year,” Bouzeriba said. Some parents fear a return to violence and are still keeping their children at home, teachers said.“The number of students is increasing steadily and we expect all the students to show up at the beginning of the second week,” said Al-Mismary, who runs a 520-pupil school.
She said she has asked NTC soldiers to drop by a few times a day to reassure the parents.The Benghazi teachers are re-opening the schools even though they have not been paid for months. But most say they understand the new government is struggling for cash as it tries to get the country running again.“This is not a big issue for us and we expect it to be settled soon,” said Al-Mismary. The bigger issue, the teachers said, will be finding lessons to replace some of the teachings of Gaddafi, though much of it will just be scrapped and the time allocated to other subjects like mathematics.“It was marginal and political material, so no need to replace it with an alternative,” said Abdel kafi Al-Kawafi, head of the NTC committee drawing up the new curriculum in Benghazi. History will take some work, however, he admitted, Gaddafi having ensured he was portrayed as the great hero of Libya.“We have committees working on that now but time will be our biggest challenge,” Al-Kawafi said.

Lampard Shows His Worth

Frank Lampard underlined his importance to Chelsea with a hat-trick at the Reebok Stadium as the Blues closed the gap at the top of the Premier League by winning 5-1 on an afternoon to forget for Bolton goalkeeper Adam Bogdan.With the hosts cutting through their opponents’ defence at will, Lampard and Daniel Sturridge – scorer of eight goals in 12 games during a loan spell with Wanderers last season – both netted twice in the first half, two errors in quick succession by Bogdan allowing each player their second.Dedryck Boyata scored his first Bolton goal soon after the restart, but it counted for little as Lampard dispatched his third of the day in the 59th minute.It means the London side go back up to third in the table and are once again three points away from joint-leaders Manchester United and Manchester City.Bolton, meanwhile, stay rock bottom, with their losing streak in the league extending to six games.While Bogdan – in the Trotters team for the injured Jussi Jaaskelainen – endured a nightmare, it was a dream performance from Lampard, who followed up his midweek goal in the Champions League draw at Valencia in style and made it clear that after a recent spell on the bench, he still has plenty to offer.Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas also handed Didier Drogba a start, the Ivorian taking the place of the suspended Fernando Torres, while Sturridge returned as well having recovered from a knee problem.The hosts’ line-up showed five changes from last weekend’s 3-0 defeat at Arsenal, with Bogdan, Boyata, Gary Cahill, Ricardo Gardner and skipper Kevin Davies the men coming into the first XI.Bolton were looking for a positive result to lift them out of the relegation zone, but having been defeated the last eight times they had hosted Chelsea, the omens were not good and within two minutes, they were behind.Jose Bosingwa’s cross was intercepted by Boyata to earn the Blues a corner and when Juan Mata swung it in, Sturridge rose unmarked to convert, the forward abruptly halting his celebration against his former club.
Moments later Sturridge fired narrowly wide as the visitors threatened to run riot.At the other end, David Ngog skewed an effort high and wide, catching John Terry with his boot in the process, and Martin Petrov hit a free-kick into the wall after Raul Meireles had brought down Darren Pratley.It was not long before Chelsea were back on the attack, though, and on the quarter-hour mark it was 2-0 as Sturridge squared in the box for Lampard, who had the space to slot the ball past Bogdan.Almost immediately, Bogdan was called upon to stop Lampard scoring another and Mata then skied his attempt from Sturridge’s cross.Bolton needed a response but were unable to make much of a couple of corners before two howlers in two minutes by Bogdan saw the game effectively end as a contest.First the young Hungarian let Sturridge’s shot from the edge of the box loop in off him in the 25th minute when he should have saved.He then parried David Luiz’s strike straight at the feet of Lampard, who tucked it away gleefully.The shell-shocked hosts managed to wrestle back some possession, but were unable to produce much going forward.Davies saw a shot deflect wide and the resulting corner came to nothing.The Wanderers captain and Cahill then got in each other’s way while jumping to meet a free-kick, and after Bogdan’s save from Mata had been greeted by ironic cheers, referee Peter Walton blew for half-time with boos ringing out around the stadium.Bolton manager Owen Coyle replaced Gretar Steinsson with Zat Knight at the interval and having started the second half positively, Wanderers pulled a goal back a minute in when Boyata nodded in Petrov’s free-kick.The hosts did their utmost to sustain the pressure, but it took a great tackle by Knight to halt Drogba’s progress and Ramires then shot over after Bogdan had made another mistake, flapping at a corner.Drogba flashed an effort across the face of goal and was the provider when Chelsea added to their lead soon after, laying the ball across the area for Lampard to sweep in.Bolton refused to give up and thought they had scored again when Davies prodded in Petrov’s cross.But although replays appeared to show the ball had crossed the line before substitute Branislav Ivanovic’s clearance, Walton ruled it was no goal.Sturridge then dragged a chance to complete his own treble wide before Wanderers substitute Chris Eagles saw his effort come back off the post.

Aregbesola Cautions Osun Hajj Pilgrims

Osun State governor, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola has cautioned the 2011 intending Hajjpilgrims from the state, to be patient and be good ambassadors of the state, by displaying sense of responsibilities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The governor gave the admonition in Osogbo, the state capital, during the valedictory service for the 1,020 intending pilgrims from the state, out of which 200 were sponsored by the state government.

He stated that the government had setup a team of 18 medical personnel to take adequate care of the pilgrims in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, while drugs that would be used for all the pilgrims have been purchased, with a view to ensuring that all pilgrims are given adequate attention.

As part of special package for the sponsored pilgrims and all intending pilgrims from the state, the government, he said, had distributed Iramcoat, Compact Disc for Hajj rites, short prayer books for Tawaf, including a book on how to go about Hajj operations to all pilgrims from the state.

He further stated that a committee for discipline would be setup to correct whoever is running against the laid down rules and regulations.
He stated that the journey for Hajj by the pilgrims is the top of tests for Muslim faithful, preaching that they should be patient as preached by Holy Quran, just as he stated that all arrangements had been concluded, to make the journey easy for the pilgrims.

In his address, the Commissioner for Home Affairs and Tourism, Mr. SikiruAyedun disclosed that this year’s Hajj operation was a unique one, starting from the selection of the state-sponsored pilgrims, because there was a big departure from the sordid preparations of the past, saying that all nominees cut across all major central mosques in the 30 local government council areas of the state, including Ife East Area Office, Modakeke.

He noted that 95 percent of the pilgrims’ passports with visas have been processed and collected by the pilgrims’ board from Saudi Embassy, saying that processing on the rest of the pilgrims have been commenced and would be ready very soon.

Advising the pilgrims to adhere strictly to the rules and regulations of Hajj in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, Ayedun noted that the pilgrims from the state would spend maximum of 45 days in Saudi Arabia with effect from their date of departure from Lagos.

Commending the governor for his effort in ensuring that the journey is successful, the commissioner also noted that no administration has achieved what the present administration had achieved, which he described as enviable and laudable in the development of the state.

Kenya Holds Man Over Frenchwoman’s Kidnap

Kenyan police were on Monday questioning a man who worked for a disabled Frenchwoman whose
kidnapping from her beachfront home in the idyllic resort of Lamu has dealt a blow to the east African country’s resurgent tourism industry.A gang of 10 armed kidnappers seized Marie Dedieu, 66, early Saturday from her home on Manda Island in the Lamu archipelago and are reported to have taken her to Somalia.
The kidnapping is the second in the area in less than one month. A British tourist, Judith Tebbutt, was seized on September 11 to the north of Lamu by an armed gang who killed her husband.The security forces had insisted that the first attack was an isolated incident.“The man we have in custody was working at the woman’s home and he is assisting us with the investigation,” said a police source who asked not to be identified.“There are aspects we want him to clarify to us because he is crucial in this investigation,” the officer added.Dedieu, who needs a wheelchair to move around and who is on several types of medication, was taken to war-torn Somalia by her captors, Stephen Ikua, the district commissioner for Lamu told AFP.“It must have been Al-Shebab,” he told AFP, referring to the Somali Islamist insurgent group that is battling the Western-backed Somali government.Mediators have been sent to secure her release but officials have warned the talks could be lengthy.Dedieu has lived for the past 15 years in the Lamu archipelago, off Kenya’s northern coast.
A Kenyan government statement said she was taken by “10 heavily armed Somali bandits.”Didieu’s companion, John Lepapa, a 39-year-old Kenyan who was present during the attack and who said he was shot at, said there were six assailants on land and four waiting in a boat, and “they all had guns”.Kenya said its forces gave chase, dispatching a helicopter and coastguard vessels to catch the kidnappers as they made their way by speedboat to Ras Kamboni in southern Somalia but failing to apprehend them in time.The majority of tourists on Manda packed their bags and left immediately.Abdul Alim, a close friend of Dedieu’s who works on Lamu, said Dedieu’s staff told him the kidnappers had dragged their employer over sand and stones and then “dumped her in the boat like a sack.”A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity to AFP, said Kenya had “already sent envoys to Somalia to establish contact with the abductors.”“With negotiations such as this, and considering there is no government on the other side, it may take quite some time …,” the security official said.
She is believed to have been sold to pirates now holding her in central Somalia.Dedieu and Lepapa had just returned from France on Wednesday, and the timing of the attack has aroused suspicions that the gang may have been tipped off about their return.Western countries rushed to update their travel advisories and Kenya battled to save its vital tourism industry following the kidnapping.Dedieu’s home lies across a narrow lagoon from Shela, a town on the isle of Lamu popular with the rich and famous, including Monaco’s Princess Caroline, who owns property there.Holidaymakers to Kenya often combine a game-viewing safari in a national park with a stay in the Lamu archipelago.The latest kidnapping prompted France and Britain to warn travellers to avoid not only Somalia but the nearby Kenyan coastline as well, to the dismay of Lamu’s hotel and tour operators.
The tourism sector, a key component of Kenya’s economy, took a hammering in 2008 after the post election violence that left some 1,300 dead and displaced tens of thousands.

Libyan Family Killed Fleeing Gadhafi Hometown

Two children and their parents were killed by machine-gun fire Saturday while trying to flee  Moammar Gadhafi’s hometown along with hundreds of other residents, as forces loyal to the ousted regime engaged in heavy clashes with revolutionary fighters surrounding the city.Their bodies were brought to a makeshift hospital outside Sirte, said a doctor there, Nuri Naari. They were hit by machine-gun fire as they drove toward the positions of revolutionary forces on the edges of the city, he said. It was unclear who killed them. Meanwhile, the top U.S. commander for Africa told The Associated Press on Saturday that the military mission in Libya was largely complete and NATO’s involvement could begin to wrap up as soon as next week after allied leaders meet in Brussels.Sirte is one of the last cities to remain in loyalist hands. After months of stalemate in Libya’s civil war, anti-Gadhafi forces swept into the capital in August and their leaders set up a transitional government. But the continued fighting in holdout cities and the failure to find and capture Gadhafi has kept Libya’s new leaders from being able to declare victory.Revolutionary forces had given families inside Sirte two days to leave the city starting Friday, said Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the National Transitional Council that now runs the country. They tried to keep a safe corridor open for civilians fleeing the coastal city.“This period will give a chance for families to leave the areas of fighting,” he said at a press conference Saturday.Hundreds of cars carrying Sirte residents formed long lines at revolutionary forces’ checkpoints leading out of the city, calmly waiting to be checked by the fighters as explosions echoed in the distance.Also Saturday, the International Committee of the Red Cross sent a team including a doctor into Sirte to deliver medical supplies to a hospital.In a press statement, the ICRC said there were 200 wounded people at the Ibn Sina hospital, which had shortages of fuel for its generator, as well as body bags and dressing kits.Because of security conditions the ICRC said the team had to leave before assessing the humanitarian needs of civilians, but was able to speak to Sirte representatives who reported water and food shortages.“The hospital is facing a huge influx of patients, medical supplies are running out and there is a desperate need for oxygen. On top of that, the water reservoir has been damaged,” read the statement.After weeks of fighting Gadhafi’s loyalists inside Sirte, the fighters now hold positions about three miles (five kilometers) from the city center, said commander Mustafa al-Rubaie.Last week, the Libyan Defense Ministry announced that Sirte’s port, airport and military base were all under their control.Al-Rubaie told The Associated Press that fighters from the east seized control of Sirte’s first residential district and a hotel where Gadhafi’s snipers were based.“There is heavy fighting going on in the streets of Sirte right now,” he said. “The enemy is besieged from the south, east and west but it’s still in possession of highly sophisticated weapons and a large amount of ammunition.”Al-Rubaie said Gadhafi forces were also in control of strategic positions inside the city, including high-rise buildings where snipers are positioned, making the revolutionary forces’ advance slow and hard.“The plan is that the eastern and western forces will meet in the middle of Sirte,” al-Rubaie said. “When we reach this point, we will celebrate the liberation of Sirte.”Army Gen. Carter Ham, head of U.S. Africa Command, said that American military leaders were expected to give NATO ministers their assessment of the situation during meetings late next week. And NATO could decide to end the mission even though Gadhafi is still at large and his forces are still entrenched in strongholds such as Sirte and Bani Walid. NATO played a key role in striking Gadhafi’s military forces with an air campaign that began in March under a U.N. mandate to protect civilians.In Sirte on Saturday, NATO aircraft could be heard circling overhead as fighters on the western approaches to the city fired rockets and tank fire at loyalist positions.Gadhafi’s spokesman Moussa Ibrahim, meanwhile, denied reports that he had been captured, telling the Syrian-based TV station Al-Rai that he was traveling with 23 fighters in Sirte. There was no way to verify the identity of the man speaking in the audio recording, but it sounded like his voice and the TV station has become the mouthpiece for Gadhafi’s resistance.Many of those fleeing Sirte said conditions in the city continue to deteriorate, with food in short supply and no water or electricity.