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In Qaddafi's hometown, signs of trouble for Libya

Signs of looting and a massacre by Libya's victorious revolutionaries in Muammar Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte have some on edge.

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Sadik Ahmed Mohammed, dressed in a long-sleeved T-shirt that says ’81 Miami,’ is not reassured.

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“At night the rebels from Misrata come back. They race through the streets shooting their guns,” says the young man, standing on a corner in his ravaged neighborhood.

Dozens of civilians like Mr. Mohammed returned to Sirte on Monday, but most of them only came to see what could be salvaged from their houses. Few were planning to stay the night.

“We need water and electricity in Sirte, but most of all we need security. We are all afraid of the rebels from Misrata. Somebody needs to take their guns away from them,” says Mohammed.

Rebel doubts

In one of the few intact government buildings in Sirte, Salah Al-Baida and Adil Nasr sit behind a huge desk in a deserted meeting room. Mr. Baida is the chief of the Sirte brigade, rebels from Qaddafi’s hometown who joined the fight against him. Mr. Nasr is his second in command.

At first, they say the usual things.

“We are all Libyans now.... the destruction is the result of the fighting with Qaddafi’s troops... we don’t know who was in control of the Mahari hotel.”

Tentatively, Nasr admits, “the rebels from Misrata did many bad things out of revenge. But we don’t blame them because we know that the Qaddafi troops raped their women.”

Then Baida gives his second in command the nod and Nasr lets go.

“We are happy and sad at the same time. We are happy that we have won the fight over Sirte, but we are sad to see what has been done to our city.”

“I am from Sirte but I fought in Misrata for months. My brother was arrested because Qaddafi’s people found out about me. We haven’t heard from him since. But the Misrata rebels have destroyed whole streets.

“Most of the destruction that you see in Sirte has been caused by the rebels. They destroyed even my house. That was unnecessary. We haven’t seen our families in months; now we can’t even bring them home. No house in Sirte has been left untouched: what NATO didn’t bomb, the rebels from Misrata finished.”

“There are bad rebels. They are thieves. They have stolen everything from the cattle to the garbage trucks. We have to start from nothing.”

They have spoken to the military council in Misrata, but all they said was that they were powerless to control the brigades.

“When the revolution began many people in Sirte loved the rebels from Misrata. Today it will be very difficult to find a single person from Sirte who loves Misrata,” says Nasr.

“They can do what they want with Qaddafi and his soldiers. We have no problem with that. But if the rebels act in the same way as the Qaddafi troops then the revolution has been for nothing.”

“Tell the world what’s happening in Sirte, urges chief Baida. “The NTC and the international community have to do something for Sirte.”

At the cemetery where the victims from the Mahari hotel are being buried, Bouckaert agrees.

“We know that what happened here is not the intention of the National Transitional Council,” says Bouckaert, “but it is clear that there are units operating outside their control.”

Earlier, the rebels from Misrata declared that the inhabitants of Tawargha, a city of 30,000 mostly black Libyans, would not be allowed to return to their homes because many Tawarghans sided with Qaddafi the fight against Misrata.

“These actions are inconsistent with the NTC’s international obligations,” says Bouckaert. “The NTC now has a short window to prove that this war was also fought for the people of Sirte, and that there will be no mass vengeance.”

Back in Misrata, Halbous brigade commander Haj Otman Belhaj, is aware of the challenges ahead.

“Now that Qaddafi is gone our main job should be to protect the civilians against vengeance.”

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