03:09 - Source: CNN
Newly liberated in Libya

Story highlights

South Africa and the African Union recognize the NTC as legitimate rulers of Libya

The World Food Programme sends food to Libya

NTC fighters move into Sabha without resistance

Obama hails the international effort to free Libyans

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Tripoli, Libya CNN  — 

South Africa and the African Union have recognized the National Transitional Council as Libya’s legitimate rulers.

In a statement released Tuesday, South Africa’s government said it “hereby announces that it recognizes the National Transitional Council (NTC) as the representative of the Libyan people as they form an all-inclusive transitional government.”

The African Union’s president made the announcement from the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Because the NTC has accepted the conditions the African Union proposed in its road map, “we decided … it should be recognized by the African Union and take its seat within our regional organization,” said Theodore Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the president of Equatorial Guinea and current president of the AU. “The African Union is prepared to work together with other international partners for a United Libya living in peace and prosperity and democracy.”

Both South Africa and the African Union have been slow to recognize the NTC as the legitimate authority in Libya.

Gadhafi served as chairman of the African Union for a year beginning in 2009. The post is a rotating position held by heads of state for one year.

South African President Jacob Zuma slammed NATO’s bombing campaign in Libya as recently as June. During the current conflict in Libya, Zuma met twice with the now-former leader in an attempt to broker a cease-fire. Gadhafi supported the African National Congress during the 1970s and 1980s, when the ANC was outlawed in South Africa.

In military action Tuesday, troops loyal to Libya’s new leaders maintained strong momentum against pro-Moammar Gadhafi holdouts as they planned an assault on one loyalist city, skirmished with forces in a second and moved into another without resistance.

A National Transitional Council official said fighters were planning a major assault on Bani Walid, a northern town still held by Gadhafi loyalists. “Our fighters are planning a massive attack today to bring the siege to an end,” Abdallah Kenshil said.

Meanwhile, NTC fighters moved into Sabha, a southern town long regarded as a pro-Gadhafi stronghold, and had met no resistance so far, according to a CNN team that accompanied the forces. Adel Ghulaek, spokesman for the NTC in Misrata, said fighters also entered the main street in Sirte briefly on Tuesday morning and clashed with Gadhafi’s forces before retreating.

Amid the developments, an audio message purported to be from the deposed Libyan leader said the Gadhafi political system represented the people’s will and could not be overthrown.

The message – broadcast Tuesday on Al-Rai TV, a Syrian-based, pro-Gadhafi television station – said Gadhafi’s supporters are mocking the belief that the longtime ruler and his government can be overthrown.

“This wonderful system is impossible to be overthrown,” the speaker said. “There is a regime that is being forced on the Libyan people by air and naval bombardment. This is a joke, and its legitimacy is hanging in the air, tied up with bombs and NATO planes that will not last. “

As the NTC works to consolidate its power, U.S. President Barack Obama said the world community’s action against the Gadhafi regime “is a lesson in what the international community can achieve when we stand together as one.”

Obama said the U.S. ambassador to Libya is headed back to Tripoli and the American flag will be raised over the embassy this week. His comments were delivered Tuesday at a high-level meeting on Libya at the United Nations.

Obama also hailed the U.N. Security Council resolution backing “all necessary measures” to protect the Libyan people. NATO led a military coalition enforcing the resolution, which was backed by Arab states.

But Obama said “difficult days are still ahead,” noting that “remnants of the old regime continue to fight.”

Some are in Bani Walid, a town surrounded by anti-Gadhafi forces, where violence has persisted, he said.

Twelve of 18 people kidnapped in a Bani Walid neighborhood were found dead, executed with their hands tied behind their backs by pro-Gadhafi fighters, Kenshil said.

Sirte, Gadhafi’s hometown, also is among a handful of pro-Gadhafi strongholds left in the country.

“We have identified their main locations and plan on bombing them with heavy weapons,” Ghulaek said Tuesday. “Thousands of residents have fled the city and we have given them homes and places to stay in Misrata. We also sent a convoy from Misrata consisting of humanitarian aid, food and gas to the displaced residents located outside of Sirte.”

The U.N. World Food Programme said it has dispatched food to the south and to people fleeing Bani Walid.

Dibeh Fakhr, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, called the situation in Bani Walid and Sirte “deteriorating.”

“We have not been able to enter yet,” Fakhr said. “We have surgical and medical supplies ready in Misrata in case we are able to deliver them into Sirte shortly. Our teams have positioned supplies in the town of Tarhuna close to Bani Walid but we have not been able to contact the authorities to be able to enter the town itself. Our teams are monitoring the situation very closely.”

CNN’s Jill Dougherty, Ben Wedeman, Kareen Khadder and Yasmin Amer and journalist Mohamed Fadel Fahmy contributed to this report.