LONDON — Several members of Moammar Gadhafi’s inner circle want to defect but are too scared about the safety of their families and friends to do so, Libya’s former energy minister said today.

Omar Fathi bin Shatwan, who also served as Libya’s industry minister, told The Associated Press that he had fled by fishing boat to Malta on Friday from the western Libyan city of Misrata.

Shatwan, who left the government in 2007, said he still was in contact with some top government figures. He explained that many feared for their safety if they flee — in some cases, their families are under siege, he said.

“Those whose families are outside Libya will flee if they get a chance,” Shatwan said in a telephone interview from Malta. “But many can’t leave, and all the families of ministers are under siege.”

Shatwan said he last had contact with Gadhafi in 2006, and had not spoken with the tyrant’s sons. “Ministers who are friends of mine, I have spoken to them,” he said.

He said he spent 40 days bunkered down at his home in the central port of Misrata before escaping from Libya, and witnessed Gadhafi’s forces pounding the city with heavy artillery and relentlessly shooting civilians.

“There has been a big bombardment and there is total destruction,” Shatwan said. “After this, they occupied some streets with tanks, and put snipers in the buildings.”

He said Gadhafi’s forces — which he said were mainly foreign mercenaries — had fired on civilians indiscriminately inside Misrata.

“I think the regime is just going mad,” he said. “Col. Gadhafi has changed. No one would kill people in the streets in this way. Not even Hitler did that.”

He estimated at least 1,500 people are dead or wounded in Misrata, but said it is almost impossible to know the exact figure as many people are missing.

The ex-minister urged NATO to step up its military campaign.

“The West should act quickly to finish the job, before there are a lot more people dead,” he told the AP.

 


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