Conflict & Justice

Libyan Opposition Plans March to Tripoli

By Marine Olivesi

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The city of Nalut in the Nefusa Mountains in western Libya was one of the first towns to liberate itself in Gaddafi's western stronghold back in February. Since then, Gaddafi's troops have shelled Nalut several times in an effort to win it back.

Most of the city's 25,000 residents have fled to neighboring Tunisia, only 40 miles away. A few hundred rebels are remaining, and they are now gearing up for an offensive.

Here's a look at a day in the life of some of those rebels in Nalut.

At about 10 a.m., half a dozen rebels drive a pickup along a winding road up to a shack on the edge of the mountain.

One of the rebels, Ali, said this is the best observation point to watch the movements of the pro-Gaddafi forces in the valley below.

The rebels unload close-range rifles, bananas and a pair of Leica binoculars. Ali said it gives you a headache to look through the binoculars for hours a time, but "our guys here they got used to it."

They rebels are keeping a close eye on four tanks and six Grad rocket launchers parked around Gazaya, only five miles away. Pro-Gaddafi forces have controlled the village for weeks now.

"Now all the cars are spread by the houses," Ali said. "When they start moving, we alert everybody!"
Learning the Rebel Movements

Ali said they've learned how to read the enemy's movements over the past three months. They've also devised a code of sorts to communicate securely on walkie-talkies.

Another rebel, Mouhadin, does a routine check-in on a walkie-talkie, using a mix of Arabic, Berber language and code names. Before taking up arms against Gaddafi, Mouhadin was a semi-professional soccer player.

Mouhadin jokes around with some rebel fighters posted nearby. But he knows the small talk will be over soon; the rebels are gearing up for an attack aimed at liberating Gazaya in the valley.

About five hours later, Radio Free Nalut goes on the air with its second newscast of the day. The news anchor announces that Gaddafi forces have renewed bombing Nalut and that the lives of the remaining civilians are at risk.

This radio station used to be the voice of the Gaddafi regime. In fact, the station and the government's political police were located right next door to each other in the same building. The rebels tried to burn the building down the day before they liberated Nalut, in February.

The station went back on the air in April as Radio Free Nalut.
Updating the Opposition Fighters

Ali Shalbak, the 20-year old host, said the station has two missions now: get updates to opposition fighters in the mountains, and get the revolution's message across to towns that are still under government control.

"We want the non-liberated cities to get an idea of the situation in the region," Ali Shalbak said. "The television and radio stations backed by Gaddafi are saying the opposite. That's why it's important that our programs reach the non-liberated towns."

Ali said he hopes Radio Free Nalut's broadcasts will encourage people to rise up in Gazaya.

Later that evening, Nagi Mohamed lies in Nalut Hospital's emergency room with a bullet in his abdomen.

"Gunshot, gunshot," a doctor said. "It did a laceration in the liver."

Doctors and nurses crowd into the surgical unit. The wounded man is one of them, and they all want to help. Nagi worked here as a lab technician for 10 years. Tuesday, he was with the rebels marching towards Gazaya.

After three hours of surgery, Nagi is taken to the ICU in the hospital basement. He's not alone there. He's sharing the room with two pro-Gaddafi soldiers. They were brought to the hospital a few days earlier by the rebels.

The doctor said Mohamed will need to be moved as soon as he wakes up.

Can you imagine if all his family and rebel friends come to see him tomorrow morning, the doctor said, and he's in the same room as Gaddafi forces? "This will be a crisis," he added.

An armed rebel guards the door to make sure no one enters the ICU. The doctor said that's good enough; the patients won't need protection from each other.

"One of them is shot in his leg. He can't really move. The second one shot in his chest. Also he cannot move. So even if the three of them wake up tonight, it won't be a problem. Because none can move!" the doctor said.

Nagi wakes up the next morning around 8 a.m. He said he was with about a hundred rebels pushing down the valley towards Gazaya. Some of his friends were setting up a trap for Gaddafi's forces. Then he felt the bullet tear through him and he passed out.

Standing next to him, Nagi's uncle presses a white cloth to his forehead and wipes away the sweat. Doctors said that Nagi could be released in a few days.

Nagi said he can't wait to get back to the frontline.