12:00pm

Thu October 13, 2011
Africa

In Gadhafi's Birthplace, Loyalists Find Shaky Refuge

Originally published on Thu October 13, 2011 7:25 pm

Many civilians have fled the fighting in the besieged Libyan city of Sirte in recent days and have ended up in a nearby village, which has one distinction: It's where deposed Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was born. But Sirte residents are not the only ones finding shelter there.

Before rebel forces marched into Tripoli, the Libyan diplomat, who doesn't want his name used for fear of reprisals, had a nice life: a villa in Tripoli, another house in Sirte, very powerful friends and family. After the rebel takeover, residents in his Tripoli neighborhood targeted him because he is actually Gadhafi's cousin.

"They destroyed my house; they took all my things; they threw me out on the street with nothing. All I have is the clothes on my back," he says in Arabic. "No documents, no money, nothing."

So he and his family went to Sirte, Gadhafi's stronghold. But fighting came there, too, following them like a curse.

The diplomat's wife says a rocket hit their house, killing one of their daughters, only a few days ago. She sobs and asks where God's mercy is now.

"For 40 years, we've had peace here and now they want freedom?" she says. "Is this their freedom?"

In their latest move, the family ended up in the village of Abu Hadi, Gadhafi's birthplace. Under his rule, it became a garrison town, housing members of his Republican Guard and military officers. Most of those people fled, leaving vacant homes.

In a stunning fall from grace, this is now where the diplomat and his family find themselves, squatting in someone else's home, eking out an existence.

"I think my future black," he says in English.

'No One Wants To Help Us'

There are winners and losers in every war. Abu Hadi has become a refuge for those who can't or don't want to be a part of the "new" Libya. Some of these people may have blood on their hands. Others may not. But what happens to them will help determine whether the new Libyan government lives up to its democratic aspirations. For now, though, Abu Hadi has become a symbol of the worst excesses of the conflict here.

There are many burned houses in Abu Hadi. Anti-Gadhafi fighters swept through the village 10 days ago and torched and looted at will. Residents say the rebel fighters are out for revenge.

Resident Mohammed, who was a government worker in Sirte, says there is theft and killing everywhere. He says life in Abu Hadi is unsustainable, and looks unlikely to improve. But there is no where else to go.

"We have no electricity, no water, no hospitals no schools," he says in Arabic. "If someone gets hurts, we have nowhere to take them. It takes hours to get to the nearest store and back. And we have no gas.

"There are a lot of checkpoints and we get harassed. No one wants to help us."

Squatters

Most of the people here are in a similar position. Chased out by fighting or by vengeance, they have all converged on Abu Hadi. With the feral desperation of a population that has so little, fights are breaking out over who gets allocated what.

This afternoon, a father and his children returned to what they said is their home. But another family was already living there.

"Look these are my keys," the returning man shouted. "This is my home."

"No. It isn't," replied the other. "I live here now."

The squatter says his house was damaged beyond repair and so he moved here.

"I won't leave," he says.

An enormous villa on the edge of Abu Hadi stands incongruously vacant. The anti-Gadhafi fighters have warned that anyone who moves back there will be killed.

The house was owned by a member of Gadhafi's elite Revolutionary Guards. If this mansion is anything to go by, he did well working for the former Libyan leader.

The man's son Mohammed Dau says the rebels came and looted the property and made his father flee in fear of his life. He says even if his father did all the things he is accused of — killing people and making money from Gadhafi — it doesn't justify what is happening.

"There is law in this country and it should take its course," he says.

He knows that isn't true, though. Like the former leader he served, his father is on the run; Dau doesn't know if he'll see him again.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: Now we take you to Libya where anti-Gadhafi forces faced setbacks today. In the city of Sirte, loyalists are still holding out and it may take many more days before Sirte is under the control of the Libyan National Transitional Council.

GUY RAZ, host: Many civilians have fled Sirte and they've ended up in a nearby village which has one distinction: It is the birthplace of Moammar Gadhafi.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro visited that village today.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Before rebel forces marched into Tripoli, the Libyan diplomat who doesn't want his name used for fear of reprisals, had a very nice life: a villa in Tripoli, another house in Sirte, very powerful friends and family.

After the rebel takeover, residents in his Tripoli neighborhood targeted him because he is actually Moammar Gadhafi's cousin.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They destroyed my house. They took all my things. They threw me out on the street with nothing, he says. All I have is the clothes on my back. No documents, no money, nothing.

And so he and his family went to Sirte, Gadhafi's stronghold. But the fighting came there too, following them like a curse.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The diplomat's wife says a rocket hit their house killing one of their daughters only a few days ago. She sobs asking: Where is God's mercy now? For 40 years, we've had peace here and now they want freedom? Is this their freedom, she asks bitterly.

In their latest move, the family has ended up here in the village of Abu Hadi, Gadhafi's birthplace. Under his rule it became a kind of garrison town, housing members of his Republican Guard and military officers. Most of those people fled, leaving vacant homes.

In a stunning fall from grace, this is now where the diplomat and his family find themselves, squatting in someone else's home eking out an existence. He says using his Basic English.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I think my future black.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There are winners and losers in every war. Abu Hadi has become a refuge for those who can't or don't want to be a part of the new Libya. Some of these people may have blood on their hands, others may not. But what happens to them will help determine whether or not the new Libyan government lives up to its democratic aspirations.

For now though, Abu Hadi has become a symbol of the worst excesses of the conflict here.

MOHAMMED: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Resident Mohammed, who was a government worker in Sirte, says life in Abu Hadi is unsustainable and looks unlikely to improve. But there is nowhere else to go, he says.

MOHAMMED: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We have no electricity, no water, no hospitals, no schools, he says. If someone gets hurts we have nowhere to take them. No one wants to help us.

Most of the people here are in a similar position. And with the feral desperation of a population that has so little, fights are breaking out over who gets allocated what.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This afternoon, a father and his children returned to what they said was their home. But another family was already living there.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Look these are my keys the returning man shouts. This is my home. No it isn't, replies the other, I live here now.

The squatter tells us his house was damaged beyond repair and so he moved here. I won't leave, he tells us.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: An enormous villa on the edge of town stands incongruously vacant though. The anti-Gadhafi fighters have warned that anyone that moves back in there will be killed. The house was owned by a member of Gadhafi's elite Revolutionary Guards. If this mansion is anything to go by, he did well working for the former Libyan leader.

The man's son, Mohammed Dau, says the rebels came and looted the property and made his father flee in fear of his life.

They say when they do this, your father, Revolutionary Guards, killed many people. All this house was made from money from Gadhafi and so you deserve this.

MOHAMMED DAU: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mohammed Dau says even if my father did those things, it doesn't justify this. There is law in this country and it should take its course, he says.

He knows that isn't true though. Like the former leader he served, his father is on the run, and Mohammed doesn't know if he'll see him again.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.