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LIBYA: Heading Unarmed to Take On Gaddafi

Mike Elkin

BENGHAZI, Libya, Mar 4 2011 (IPS) - The rebel forces fighting to oust dictator Muammar Gaddafi from power are slowly moving towards the Libyan leader’s bastions in the cities of Sert and Tripoli. Ordinary citizens are responding to the call to arms, even though they have no weapons.

Volunteers head off unarmed to take on Gaddafi's forces. Credit: Mike Elkin/IPS.

Volunteers head off unarmed to take on Gaddafi's forces. Credit: Mike Elkin/IPS.

“Benghazi is liberated and safe, but it’s time to advance,” said former soldier in the Libyan army Hatem Ali Mustafa, 31. “It’s a trip we may not return from, but there’s no turning back now. Revolution or death.”

Mustafa and five childhood friends from his neighbourhood, dressed in an array of scrounged army gear, were heading to Ras Lanuf, an oil refinery town Gaddafi’s men had moved into the day earlier.

None of the volunteer fighters carried a weapon, nor did they know exactly where to go or who to report to when they arrived. They didn’t have money either. Someone will pick them up on the road to take them the 130 miles from Benghazi to the “front”, they said.

“We are willing to die to liberate all Libyans from this nightmare,” said Khaled Almugraby, a 31-year-old gardener wearing a green army jacket and a black combat beret. He said he hasn’t fired a weapon since he finished the obligatory military service, but “if it’s necessary I will fight with my hands and teeth. I don’t need anything else.”

Fight they must, he said. “At the beginning of the revolution we held peaceful protests, but the response from the regime was so brutal that we had to answer back.”

This group is one of many moving to reinforce rebel positions around the town of Berga 100 miles to the south. Over the past few days, mini-vans, jeeps and pickup trucks with mounted machine guns on the back have sped towards the battle.

“I was in the dunes with the fighters and it was certainly a very intense fight,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director for Human Rights Watch. “Gaddafi’s men fired a lot of mortars and artillery at the fighters and it lasted many hours. The situation didn’t turn until the fighters brought down heavier weapons to Brega.”

The six Benghazi men IPS spoke to walked off towards the road south, waving to the children playing in the muddy street. As they left, fighting had already been raging for hours in Ras Lanuf. They were still on the road when rebels claimed to have taken the town and forced Gaddafi’s forces back west.

Agency reporters saw rebels guarding the Harouge Oil Operations compound, the military barracks and the police station. Fighters told AFP that all that remained to do was comb the residential area for lingering Gaddafi soldiers.

Back in Benghazi, Hatem’s father, a retired army sergeant, is sure that fighting will continue and he will soon send his five other sons to fight as well.

“Gaddafi has modern weapons, more than you can imagine. First he tries to bribe the towns, but when that doesn’t work he attacks them. He’s only used a small part of the arsenal he has.

“He first sends in the mercenaries, to see if they can do it on the cheap. But this is a war in which there will be no mercy for the loser. The regime has not shown any for four decades and now neither will we.”

Other reports indicated that fierce fighting was continuing in Ras Lanuf. Fighting was also reported in Zawiya to the south-west of Tripoli. Independent reports from several of the regions where fighting is taking place were hard to come by.

Confirmation of the rebels’ success in many parts of the country came earlier from none other than Gaddafi who acknowledged in a television address that much of the east was in the hands of rebels.

Since then fighting has erupted in many cities in the west and across much of the country.

Most local accounts tally in claiming that many of Gaddafi’s soldiers have now turned rebels, and that those fighting on behalf of Gaddafi are mercenaries or cliques with personal interests and loyalties to the regime.

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