In Libya's west, rebels rise amid rights concerns, growing pride
The increasingly assertive rebels in Libya's western Nafusah Mountains have committed abuses, Human Rights Watch says today. There's also growing pride, and confidence they're going to win their fight against Muammar Qaddafi.
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But most of the time he can be found at a former army barracks outside Jadu where he and 189 other recruits are undergoing a three-week military training program. “I love that I am fighting,” says Bunduq, “but I don’t love fighting. As soon as this is over I want to go back to my music.”Skip to next paragraph
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Bunduq’s class is the third to train at Jadu’s military academy. Earlier classes numbered 180 and 170 recruits.
Benghazi, the capital of the anti-Qaddafi rebels in Libya's east, also has a military training center, but there is a sense of urgency here that seems sometimes lacking in Benghazi, where the nearest frontlines are either a 3-hour drive or a 36-hour boat trip away.
In Jadu, recruits don’t go home after rudimentary training on the AK-47 like they do in Benghazi; they live together in rudimentary barracks that they’ve decorated with anti-Qaddafi cartoons.
“We’re trying to get them used to the hard life. Don’t forget that most of these people have never held a gun before in their lives,” said one of the trainers, a former Qaddafi army officer who requested anonymity because he still has family living in Tripoli.
Many of the recruits here are Berber, or Amazigh (“Free men”). They’ve come either from the Nafusah Mountains or from Zuwara on the Mediterranean coast, the second biggest concentration of Libyan Berbers.
Others have come from places like Tripoli, Zlitan, and Zawiya in government-held territory, from the Libyan refugee camps in Tunisia, or from farther abroad.
One young recruit, who declined to give his name for fear of repercussions, has come all the way from London.
“I was born and raised in the UK,” he said, “but I still have family all over Libya. After a while, demonstrating outside the Libyan embassy in London just didn’t seem enough.”
When the rebellion began here in mid-February, local government troops, many of whom belonged to the Berber minority, were quick to switch allegiance to the protestors.
“We had been waiting for this chance for 42 years,” said one former captain in Qaddafi’s army who gladly opened his barracks’ gates when the local youth demanded access to the guns inside.
The rebels had the advantage of knowing the terrain. After all, this is where their ancestors, the original inhabitants of North Africa, withdrew to when the Arab armies invaded between the 7th and 11th centuries.
“We don’t protect the mountain; the mountain protects us. Our ancestors knew what they were doing when they brought us here all those years ago,” said the former army captain.
But for a long time the mountain rebellion remained a local affair that had little or no impact on the larger uprising against Qaddafi’s regime. The mountain rebels were at the mercy of the Grad missiles fired by the Qaddafi troops in the valley, and they were cut off from the outside world.
During the worst of the shelling some civilians even sought refuge in the traditional underground Berber houses carved out of the mountainside.
In the past few weeks, however, a string of military victories – with a little help from NATO bombings – have given the rebels almost complete control over the Nafusah Mountains.