In a sign of eroding support for besieged Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, eight generals and about 100 soldiers defected from the Libyan army and fled to Italy, CNN reported.
Italian intelligence agents met the defectors in Tunisia and then ferried them to Italy, an official told CNN. NATO has intensified its bombing of Gadaffi's compound as rebels have consolidated their gains the in the east of Libya, and the normally defiant Qaddafi has been largely invisible.
He is increasingly isolated at home and abroad, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said during a speech in Bulgaria. Even those closest to him are departing, defecting or deserting.
The defections coincided with South African president Jacob Zuma's meeting with Gaddafi in Libya in the hopes of reaching a deal to end the conflict. Qaddafi had cultivated relationships with African countries during his decades of rule, and the African Union has broken with Europe leaders in criticizing the NATO bombing campaign.
The generals' departure represents the most visible crack in Gaddafi's regime since Foreign Minister and close Gaddafi confidante Moussa Koussa fled to London in March.