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BENGHAZI, Libya - Libya's rebels claimed control of Brega on Monday, as most pro-Qadhafi troops retreated westward leaving around 150-200 loyalist fighters pinned down inside the oil town, a spokesman said.
"The bulk of (Muammer) Qadhafi's forces have retreated to Ras Lanuf," rebel spokesman Shamsiddin Abdulmolah told AFP, referring to another oil hub some 50km (32 miles) to the west.
Abdulmolah added that the remnants of Qadhafi's troops were holed up among industrial facilities in Brega with supplies dwindling.
"Their food and water supplies are cut and they now will not be able to sleep," said Abdulmolah as the latest battle for Brega entered its fifth day.
"It's a matter of time before they come to their senses, we hope to prevent some bloodshed."
Taking the town would be a major rebel victory, boosting morale and recapturing infrastructure vital to Libya's economic future.
Brega is a major center for channelling the pipelines of the oil-rich Sirte Basin to the rest of the world.
Fighters on the ground reported no signs so far that those oil installations have been set on fire or sabotaged, but Abdulmolah said the area has been heavily mined.
Libya's warring armies have been fighting over Brega since Thursday when rebel forces launched a three-pronged attack on the town which has switched hands many times, but which had been under Qadhafi control since April.
Rebel troops approached from the northeast, east and southeast, surrounding Qadhafi's forces and reaching the outskirts of the city's eastern-most tip on Friday before pulling back to allow for NATO bombardments.
Since then it has been a steady advance.
Nestled on the Gulf of Sirte, Brega is made up of three areas, a residential area in the east, a major oil facility in the west and an old town in between.
After a series of military gains were washed away by hasty and badly coordinated advances, rebel commanders were anxious to make sure they have a unified offensive line before their final push.
But the complete occupation of Brega may still have to wait.
"Most of the troops going in right now are anti-mine teams," said Abdulmolah. "We have found an extraordinary number of anti-personnel mines."
He added that the effort to clear the ordnance is being hampered by missile attacks from the village of Bishr around 20km (13 miles) away.
The rebels hope that a phalanx of their fighters which swept past Brega from the south will soon take out those positions.
"We hope to take Bishr today," said Abdulmolah.
The victory has come at a price. Around 15 rebel fighters have been killed and 274 wounded since the battle began.
The toll on Qadhafi's troops is not known.
In its latest operational update on Monday, NATO reported hitting "nine armed vehicles, two armoured fighting vehicles and a command and control node" in the Brega area.
Southwest of Tripoli, Qadhafi's forces fired rockets at rebel positions in Gualish in the Nafusa Mountains and around Bir Ayad, a key junction on the road to Tripoli in the plains below, rebel commanders said.
The rebels responded with rocket fire against the loyalist-held hill town of Asabah, an AFP correspondent reported.
British Prime Minister David Cameron sought to bridge the gap with South African President Jacob Zuma over the conflict in Libya in talks in Pretoria.
Zuma has accused NATO of overstepping its UN mandate to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, although South Africa voted for the UN resolution that the alliance uses to justify its bombing campaign.
"It is no secret that we have disagreed on some aspects of how to respond to the violence in Libya," Cameron said.
"But we are agreed in the immediate imperative - that all sides must take every effort to avoid the loss of civilian life," he added.
"And we agree on the ultimate destination that Qadhafi must step aside to allow the people of Libya to decide their own future.
"The president believes that is the outcome of a political process. I believe for a political process to work, this has to be the starting point."
Cameron has called for Qadhafi to step down. South Africa has refused to join in that call, saying the decision should be the outcome of negotiations among the warring parties, not a precondition as demanded by the rebels.
"What happens to Qadhafi must be decided by the Libyan people. You need to negotiate how, why and where he must go," Zuma said.