Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi on Friday surrounded Zlitan, one of only three towns separating the rebel-held city of Misrata from the capital Tripoli, a rebel military spokesman said.
"Large numbers of troops are surrounding Zlitan from all directions and are threatening its residents with having their women raped by mercenaries if they do not surrender," Ahmed
Bani, military spokesman, told Reuters by phone from Benghazi.
Zlitan could act as a stepping stone to allow the anti-Gadhafi uprising to spread from Misrata, the biggest rebel outpost in western Libya, to Gadhafi's stronghold in Tripoli.
Bani said the troops around Zlitan were equipped with artillery and Grad rockets. He said clashes broke out in Zlitan on Thursday, and 22 rebels had been killed.
International Criminal Court says Gadhafi linked to rape policy
International Criminal Court investigators have evidence linking Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi to a policy of raping opponents and may bring separate charges on the issue, the ICC prosecutor said on Wednesday.
Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo requested arrest warrants on May 16 against Gadhafi, his son Saif al-Islam and the country's spy chief on charges of crimes against humanity committed during attempts to crush the country's rebellion.
ICC judges are considering Moreno-Ocampo's request, but the prosecutor said that after their decision, he might present new charges of mass rape.
The rape allegation is not new. It was raised in the UN Security Council in April by U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, who said some of Gadhafi's troops had been issued with the impotency drug Viagra. Moreno-Ocampo said in an interview with Reuters on May 2 he was investigating the allegation.
At a UN news conference on Wednesday, he said the question until recently had been whether Gadhafi himself could be associated with the rapes "or is it something that happened in the barracks?"
"But now we are getting some information that Gadhafi himself decided" to authorize the rapes, "and this is new," Moreno-Ocampo said.
"It never was the pattern he used to control the population. The rape is a new aspect of the repression," he said. "Apparently, he decided to punish using rapes."
Moreno-Ocampo repeated the allegation of use of impotency drugs, saying his team was finding "some elements" confirming the purchase of "Viagra type of medicaments." He said there was evidence of Libya acquiring "containers" of such drugs "to enhance the possibility to rape women."
The prosecutor said it was difficult to know how widespread the rape was but he had received information there were several hundred victims in some areas.
The UN Security Council referred the violence in Libya to the Hague-based ICC in February.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now