May 5, 2011 / 1:28 PM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 1-NATO strikes destroy Libyan helicopters - rebels

(Adds details, background)

ALGIERS, May 5 (Reuters) - NATO air strikes destroyed at least two helicopters near the Libyan town of Zintan as government forces transported them on trucks, a rebel spokesman in Zintan told Reuters on Thursday.

“NATO destroyed two or three helicopters carried by big trucks on Thursday,” said the spokesman, called Abdulrahman. “Witnesses told me they saw smoke rising from the area. Those kinds of trucks are usually used for carrying tanks.”

There have been no reports of forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi using helicopters since a Western-led coalition began enforcing a no-fly zone as part of a United Nations mandate to protect Libyan civilians.

The rebel spokesman said the trucks carrying the helicopters were heading towards Tiji, a small town near Libya’s border with Tunisia. Satellite photographs show what appears to be a military base on the outskirts of Tiji.

The main route from Tripoli to Tiji passes near Zintan, where Gaddafi loyalists have been bombarding the rebels who control the town.

It was not clear if the helicopters were being moved to try to hide them from NATO warplanes or were being brought into position for use against rebels in the area. (Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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