In Post-Gadhafi Libya, Enmities Continue To Smolder

Nov 8, 2011
Originally published on November 10, 2011 7:44 am

In Libya's Nafusa mountains southwest of Tripoli, the sight of abandoned villages and idle fighters hanging onto their weapons gives bleak testament to the fact that not everyone in the country is ready for the violence that overthrew former dictator Moammar Gadhafi to end.

In one windswept mountain village outside the city of Zintan, the only sound is the lonely clatter of a door against the gate of an abandoned house. Burned-out cars and a foam mattress soaked from the rain litter the street; most of the houses look as if they've been looted.

The village used to be populated by members of a nomadic southern tribe called the Mushashya, whom Gadhafi imported to the area decades ago.

Now, a sign in the town bears a handwritten scrawl that says, "Mushashya: Gadhafi dogs." Local residents are hoping the pro-Gadhafi families who were driven out don't come back.

The people of Libya have just finished marking Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, the first national holiday since Gadhafi's death. As families mourn the sacrifice of the young men who gave their lives to the revolution, revenge attacks and militia rivalries are alarming those anxious for a swift transition from war to peacetime.

Power Struggles After Gadhafi

Matoug Merdassi, an anti-Gadhafi fighter from Zintan, says the Mushashya families can never come back, because when Zintan rose up against the dictator, they joined with the loyalist forces against their neighbors.

Massoud al-Keesh, 55, says that when the uprising began, Mushashya people gave the village to the army, which used it to rocket and shell Zintan and the surrounding towns.

It's a story that's being played out in other parts of Libya as well. Outside Misrata, the town of Tawergha remains abandoned after its residents let the Gadhafi army launch assaults on Misrata from there.

Some Misrata fighters are suspected of committing atrocities, but Zintan fighters say they are more humane.

An unannounced visit to a makeshift prison in Zintan reveals a few dozen prisoners with no visible signs of abuse who say they've been treated well. Libyans, other Africans and even one Serb are sprawled on mattresses in a dimly lit basement, awaiting an unknown fate.

One prisoner, a former general in Gadhafi's army, says he had not seen any combat. Husni Mohammed Katy hopes to be allowed to join the new army because that is all he knows after 30 years in the military.

The volunteer head of the Zintan local council, Attaher Tourki, says he'd like to release some prisoners for the holiday, but they first need to determine those who have blood on their hands, who will need to stand trial.

Reluctance To Turn In Weapons

A slim, energetic man with salt and pepper hair, Tourki was studying for an advanced engineering degree in Britain before the revolution. He says getting fighters to turn in their weapons is the top priority, but so far he has no alternatives to offer these young men.

The fighters have given back the tanks, Tourki says, but when asked for other weapons, they say they will turn them in once they see a new government formed.

"That's the main concern. Because all of them [are] young people; they lived for six months in war. And I can't promise them, because, as you know, I have nothing," Tourki says. "To be honest with you, yes, we have some guys or some young people out of control."

The worst incident in recent days was a deadly shootout at a Tripoli hospital involving different militias, including one from Zintan.

Zintani fighters are in charge of security at Tripoli's international airport. The commander, Mukhtar Akhdar, whose leathery face is framed by a traditional turban, acknowledges there was a problem at the hospital, but says pro-Gadhafi elements are using such incidents to sow discord among the militias in the capital.

Akhdar says the fighters can't relax their vigilance now or the revolution could still be undone. But he also adds that militia leaders are in discussions about how to unify their efforts, and he hopes an announcement will be coming soon.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And in Libya, revenge attacks and militia rivalries are alarming those anxious for a swift transition from war to peace time. NPR's Peter Kenyon takes us to the Nafusa Mountains on the western border of Libya. There he found idle fighters hanging onto their weapons, and abandoned villages giving bleak testimony to the fact that not everyone is ready for the violence to end.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Autumn rains have freshened the green mountains around Zintan, and local markets are buzzing with holiday shoppers shocked at the high price of lamb. But in one village the only sound is the lonely clatter of a door against the gate of an abandoned house. A sign nearby bears a handwritten scrawl that says Mushashya, Gadhafi dogs.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR BANGING)

KENYON: I'm standing in the middle of a windswept mountain village that is completely deserted. There are burned-out wrecked cars, a foam mattress is soaked, it rained this morning. It looks like most of these houses have been looted. We're told this village was populated by pro-Gadhafi families. They were driven out, and the locals are hoping they don't come back.

MATOUG MERDASSI: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: A lone Zintan fighter Matoug Merdassi, says the Mushashya families, members of a nomadic southern tribe who were imported by Gadhafi decades ago, can never come back because when Zintan rose up against the dictator they joined with the loyalist forces against their neighbors.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR ENGINE REVVING)

MASSOUD AL-KEESH: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: At a gas station across the street, a 55-year-old Massoud al-Keesh says when the uprising began, Mushashya people gave the village to the army, which used it to rocket and shell Zintan and the surrounding towns.

The story of Mushashya is being played out in other parts of Libya as well. Outside of Misrata, the town of Tawergha remains abandoned after its residents let the Gadhafi army launch assaults on Misrata from there. Some Misrata fighters are suspected of committing atrocities, but Zintan fighters claim to be more humane. An unannounced visit to a makeshift prison in Zintan revealed a few dozen prisoners with no visible signs of abuse who said they've been treated well. Libyans, other Africans, even one Serb, sprawled on mattresses in a dimly lit basement, awaiting an unknown fate.

HUSNI MOHAMMED KATY: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: One former general in Gadhafi's army, Husni Mohammed Katy, claimed he hadn't seen any combat. He hopes to be allowed to join the new army, because after 30 years in the military, that's all he knows.

The volunteer head of the Zintan local council, Attaher Tourki, says he'd like to release some prisoners for the holiday, but first they need to sort out those with blood on their hands who will need to stand trial. A slim, energetic man with salt and pepper hair, Tourki was studying for an advanced engineering degree in Britain before the revolution. He says getting fighters to turn in their weapons is the top priority, but so far he has no alternatives to offer these young men.

ATTAHER TOURKI: They've given the tanks, but for the other weapons, you ask them, all right, when we see the new government we will do that. That's the main concern. Because all of them they are young people, they lived for six months in war, and I can't promise them because, as you know, I have nothing. To be honest with you, yes, we have some guys or some young people out of control.

KENYON: The worst incident in recent days was a deadly shootout at a Tripoli hospital involving different militias, including one from Zintan.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

KENYON: Zintani fighters are in charge of security at Tripoli's International Airport.

MUKHTAR AKHDAR: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: The commander, Mukhtar Akhdar, his leathery face framed by a traditional turban, acknowledges there was a problem at the hospital, but says pro-Gadhafi elements are using such incidents to sow discord among the militias in the capital. He says the fighters can't relax their vigilance now or the revolution could still be undone. But Akhdar says militia leaders are in discussions about how to unify their efforts and he hopes an announcement will be coming soon. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Tripoli.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.