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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They now have tentative control of the Wizan border crossing with Tunisia in the West – opening the way for weapons and other supplies – and they control the spine of the mountain range all the way to El Ghala in the east. They have even improvised an airstrip on a straight stretch of road where small planes can land. Only Gharyan, the gateway to the mountains and its largest city, is still firmly under Qaddafi’s control.Skip to next paragraph
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At one point in early July, the rebels had advanced as far as Bir Ghanem, less than 60 miles from Tripoli’s Green Square.
With Gaddafi’s troops less than a mile away, 35-year old Ziad, an air traffic controller at Tripoli airport who joined the mountain rebels 40 days earlier, was confident about the rebels’ chances of success.
“We are moving very quickly now,” he said. “But we first need to secure the cities in the west, like Surman and Zawiya, before we can move on to Tripoli.” By the next day, however, the rebels had given up their position at Bir Ghanem. Not for the first time, the rebels, in their enthusiasm, had overextended themselves.
“It was an open area and it would have taken a lot of men to hold on to it,” said the chief of Jadu’s military council, Habil Dohi. “We can’t hold on to Bir Ghanem at a time when we are simultaneously fighting on 5 fronts around the mountains.”
In fact, it may be before the rebels are ready for the final push to Tripoli, the chief admitted. There is a rumor on the mountain that the men here are being trained to secretly infiltrate back into their native cities for a coordinated uprising.
The plan, which is allegedly code-named ‘Tripoli Five,’ is based on the wisdom, gained in places like Misuratah, that men will fight harder if they are defending their own homes and families.
Most of the men have come to the mountains via Tunisia, but some have come directly from Tripoli. “Coming here is a problem, especially for young men,” said Iman, a young doctor who came from Tripoli 15 days earlier to help out at the hospital at Yafran on the eastern frontline. “The regime is afraid that the young men will join the rebellion so they are routinely arrested at the checkpoints.”
The fact that more and more young men are succeeding in reaching the mountains from Tripoli anyway might point to a weakening of the regime. “Until a month ago it would have been impossible to make the trip,” said Iman. “I took a desert road but even there we ran into army checkpoints. But the men at these checkpoints are frustrated. They’ve run out of food and they feel like they’ve been left at their own mercy. It’s starting to fall apart,” said Iman.
Meanwhile, a sense of normality has returned to parts of the Nafusah Mountains, allowing for a gradual return of the civilian population.
“We are encouraging families to come back because it is summer now and the refugee camps in Tunisia have become unbearably hot,” said chief Dohi.
In some places, like Yafran, that idea seems insane. During a recent visit, men could be seen cleaning the streets and painting the curbs to prepare for the returnees.
But the frontline is mere miles away and the town is within reach of Qaddafi’s Grad missiles. Only a handful of families have returned.
Nalut, the first mountain town from the Tunisian border, is a ghost town. An attempt by Nalut’s rebels to dislodge the Qaddafi troops shelling the town went horribly wrong, killing 15 rebels with almost no ground gained.