Muammar Gaddafi's forces have adopted tactics of mass terror to force the Libyan opposition into submission, it emerged last night.
They are going to extreme lengths to attack civilians after their conventional army suffered substantial losses from NATO attacks.
Regime troops have taken to wearing gas masks on the front line as a form of psychological warfare to intimidate the local population, particularly in the besieged city of Misrata.
Libyan army soldiers have also largely ditched their uniforms in favour of everyday clothing in a new tactic that the military called "civilianisation" of troops.
"They are seeking to make themselves indistinguishable both from the civil populace and the opposition fighters," said a military intelligence source.
"This is very much a response to what the coalition has sought to do in terms of preventing them from attacking the civilian population."
Gaddafi's forces had also used cluster bombs and anti-ship mines in Misrata as part of their terror campaign. "Fear is a critical component in everything Gaddafi seeks to achieve," the source said.
While Gaddafi was unlikely to use any outlawed chemical weapons, he could resort to making lethal concoctions from industrial substances.
"He doesn't have chemical weapons in ready usable form," the source said. "How much more deadly would it be if he were to take industrial substances and misuse those?"
Meanwhile, an aid ship defied deadly shell fire to rescue African and Asian migrant workers from Misrata yesterday, but was forced to leave behind hundreds of Libyans desperate to flee the fighting.
Aid workers had earlier scrambled to embark the migrants, along with journalists and the wounded, on the ship bound for rebel-held Benghazi as the Misrata port came under bombardment from loyal government forces.
The Red Star One, sent by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), picked up 800 people caught up in the civil war who had been waiting for days to escape Misrata's worsening humanitarian crisis.
It had hoped to take 1,000 people.
"Hundreds of Libyan civilians had also tried to board the ship in desperation to get out of Misrata. But with a limited capacity, the ramp of the boat had to be pulled up so that the ship could pull away from the dock in safety," the IOM said.
The shelling was also hitting Misrata's Qasr Ahmad district, a mixed residential and industrial area which houses the iron and steel works in a city that has become one of the bloodiest battlefields in the two-month conflict.
NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen rejected the assessment that the conflict was heading towards stalemate on the battlefield despite the air attacks. "I don't sense any fatigue," he said.
Gaddafi's forces were much weaker now than when NATO began its operation, he said. He added that Libya would be safer with the Libyan leader gone.
"I am definitely in favour of taking all necessary measures to put the maximum pressure on the Gaddafi regime. And I do believe it would be protection of civilians in Libya if Gaddafi was forced to step down." (© Daily Telegraph, London)