Thursday, 14 April 2011

A few thoughts

A few thoughts:

The latest talks offering dialogue were held by African Union representatives a few days ago. They first visited Ghadaffi in Tripoli and then the rebel council in Benghazi. Ghadaffi agreed to a cease fire in principal but said nothing about his leaving, and he continues to shell towns including Misrata and Brega.

The involvement of the AU will lead nowhere, it can't. The rebels won't even talk until Ghadaffi and his family step down but there is no chance this will happen. Firstly Ghadaffi has nowhere to go - he has isolated himself from every country - only uganda and zimbabwe will have him (maybe Venezuela), and while usually Saudi arabia usually takes the tin pot dictators who side with arabs (case in point ben ali and idi amin) Ghadaffi managed to personally insult the King during his first speech to the UN.

Secondly, many countries in the AU have received huge sums of money from Ghadaffi and will be reluctant to see a neighbouring leader overthrown by western force - they would rather just see a cease fire. Thirdly he's a megolamaniac who believes fully in his right to rule.

Ghadaffi will also have watched the cases of Charles Taylor in Liberia, and Karadic in Yugoslavia who were both promised immunity but ended up at the ICC in the Hague. Most recently he will have seen Mubarak being arrested and will now be certain that he will be caught and brought to trial at some point irrespective of where he goes.

He may also now feel that he actually has a chance to win, or at least to hold a stalemate. The reluctance of NATO to help the rebels on the offensive (the UN charter only permits them to protect civilians, rather than help in regime change) will have boosted this.

It also seems that many countries are now wary of what might happen to Libya post Ghadaffi, hence the inaction. The council have written up a 2 page constitution, but it focuses on removing ghadaffi and talks only in very vague ways about democracy and elections. It is more rhetoric than anything else and offers no viable solution for a new state.

The IMF says he has $6 billion in gold reserves and his recently defected interior minister suggests he may have as much as $10 billion in cash. So he can continue to pay his mercenaries and buy loyalty for some time to come.

The only thing that will change this situation is if the rebels are armed or if NATO commits more forces. If NATO and the west are reluctant to do this then it is likely that eventually Quatar will. They are trying to position themselves as a regional political powerhouse - (they've hosted a number of summits recently including the most recent libyan one. They have huge infulence in the region and are the most wealthy country here)

Giving the rebels arms however will take time (both to get here and to train people), so yet again it looks like this will drag on for a very long time.


For the lasts few days the city of Ajdabiya has been the front line in the war between Ghadaffi troops and rebel forces. It is the last city before the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and therefore hugely symbolic in this battle.

We had been trying to enter for a couple of days, but were being kept behind a rebel checkpoint near the eastern gate. While sheltering in a bombed out mosque we watched fighters return from the front, drained and exhausted. The next batch was always ready to go however and so a constant flow of men continued the fight.

With growing impatience we waited, never allowed more than a few streets inside before being rushed back amid gunfire. For two days heavy bombardment and sniper fire could be heard constantly, and as smoke billowed from the city we watched rockets streak across the sky. Nobody knew exactly what was going on but from the sounds alone it was clear that a battle was raging.

Finally following much persuasion we were allowed forward. There had been an apparent lull in the fighting and we had told the commander how we needed to see the hospital. One thing they have learnt very quickly is how important the media are and so we were given an escort and allowed to creep slowly forward.

Ajdabiya is normally a bustling city of about 170,000 but has since become a ghost town. The silence as we entered was eerie, interrupted only occasionally by bursts of gunfire and birds singing. Cars had been left abandoned in the streets, most of them burnt out. Make shift roadblocks had been put up on almost every intersection – though these had long since been abandoned. Countless buildings were gutted by fire and due to the shelling many had been reduced to rubble. Apartment blocks, shops, Mosques and offices had all been hit and it was clear that Ghadaffi’s troops were being indiscriminate in their shelling.

As we neared the centre of town, we could see rebel troops hiding in doorways. Many signalled for us to go back. We made it to the hospital however without any incidents and were allowed in. Most of the wounded that day had already been evacuated to Benghazi but some still remained, and the morgue was full. The wounded were either gun shot or shrapnel victims and many were in pain. It was an awful sight to see, and standing amid pools of their blood while trying to talk them, I felt suddenly guilty. Surely they deserved a little more respect, but as I moved to leave the room one called me back and almost unable to talk wanted to tell me what a monster Ghadaffi was.

Most of the doctors in Libya came from abroad; Egypt or the Emirates, and all of them have all now fled. There are therefore only a few left and many nurses now do the jobs of surgeons. We recognised a doctor we had met on the front line some days earlier and on that occasion he had just lost a fellow doctor in a NATO friendly fire accident. He appeared to have had no sleep since but was still running the surgery.

Leaving the hospital we decided to go further in. Ghadaffi’s artillery could reach to about the city centre and we wanted to see the level of devastation. Rumours of bodies lying in the road up ahead had also reached us at the hospital, and we wanted to verify this. Apparently their hands had been bound and their necks cut.

Ghadaffi’s tactics have been to bombard the centre then send in fast moving teams of pick up trucks - about 40 people total, to try and capture ground. These roving war parties are liable to come from any side and so it is easy to get cut off from the rebels – this is how many of them have been caught. These troops loyal to the regime are made up almost exclusively of foreign mercenaries and later in the day I was shown the photocopied passports of 44 men from Tunisia, Mauritania and Chad. We were told that these passports had been taken off dead bodies, but there is no way of verifying this.

Finally we reached the spot where the bodies had been found. They had since been moved, but judging by the blood on the ground, it was clear that 5 bodies had once lain there. A rebel commander pulled us to one side and on his phone showed us the bodies as they had been found. They were indeed bound and the necks slit open. Yet again if became clear that Ghadaffi will take no prisoners.

Just a few minutes later, while walking down a nearby street, gunfire and shelling erupted again and just over our heads a shell whistling by. We were thrown into a car and made our escape as Ghadaffi forces made another attempt to push in.