Libyan forces claim 'liberated' Misratah, but rebellion abounds
All the Libyan military could show on Monday was that they controlled a portion of a main thoroughfare in the city, which lies 125 miles from Tripoli and has seen weeks of clashes.
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While Libya’s rebellion continues to make new gains off the back of Western airstrikes against Qaddafi forces, there is no doubt that loyalists harbor an especially high level of hatred for the people of Misratah who have dared to challenge Qaddafi’s rule.Skip to next paragraph
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Along the route from Tripoli, even signposts for Misratah have the name blacked out, and loyalists here denounced them as foreign terrorists and vowed to continue the fight.
“We have here not Libyans, but Algerians, Tunisians, Egyptians, and other terrorists,” said one officer with a short-cropped beard, as he strode across the intersection at the edge of no-man’s-land in Misratah. He would not give his name.
“We have already won – even if they still attack us, we have already won,” said another Libyan officer with a military radio hanging at his left shoulder. He gave his name as Capt. Walid. “And we will try to face them as much as we can. They are not strong … because they are less than us.”
“We feel sorry to fight all those people,” said Walid, speaking in English. “We asked them many times to put down their arms. Our orders are very clear: we can deal with anyone only if they shoot at us.”
And the power of the airstrikes? “It makes me stronger because we are facing big countries, and they have no right to do that,” said the captain. “I am not afraid. This is my job, just to protect my people, to protect my country.”
The rebels admit that Qaddafi loyalists now control part of the city, though the cease-fire was a myth – as two previous cease-fire declarations proved illusory.
“There is no cease-fire,” a rebel spokesman called Ali told Reuters. “About 15 to 30 minutes ago, they started randomly firing tank and artillery shells on the city and their snipers are still shooting at people.”
Lack of serious defenses
The road east of the capital to Misratah told a story of use to the rebels aiming to advance westward: an apparent lack of serious defenses. Yet further to the west, numerous checkpoints line the road, including one where soldiers and militiamen have been confiscating cassette tapes and breaking mobile phones.
But soldiers camped at points along the road appeared little deterrence to a future rebel advance. Troops lounged near canvas tents, hung laundry on lines strung between eucalyptus trees, and had huge aluminum pots piled up for making food.
Multi-barreled heavy machine guns and even tanks were hidden under trees or buried under branches for concealment. One military fuel truck tucked under a tree was destroyed by an airstrike. But there were few of those among the olive groves east of the capital, even as – closer to Misratah – they turned to palm groves.
One set of picnickers with a red car raised their arms in triumph as a journalists’ bus passed by, with official police escort.