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Outgunned, young Libya rebels have 'secret weapon'

13 april 2011, 16:25
0
AFP©
AFP©
They are outgunned by Moamer Kadhafi's forces and they lack even rudimentary military training but the young rebels in the besieged Libyan city of Misrata have got street-cred that counts, AFP reports.

They scurry from house to house, from backyard to narrow alleyway. Young, quick and enthusiastic, they make up for at least some of their military inadequacies by their intimate knowledge of the terrain.

"We all played around here when we were kids, not that long ago," smiles Abdelfatah Shaka, 22, a rocket launcher over his shoulder.

"Now we are making war. But Kadhafi's soldiers aren't from here. They aren't even Libyans," he says, alluding to widespread claims that the Libyan strongman has been using foreign mercenaries in his battle against the rebels.

"They get lost, and we set traps for them."

Shaka is among some 30 fighters gathered at the "front line" of Tripoli Avenue, the main drag in Libya's third-largest city. The scene is reminiscent of Beirut during the worst of Lebanon's civil war, or Sarajevo under siege.

The facades of buildings are riddled with bullet holes, windows are blown out, the street is littered with the carcasses of burnt-out vehicles.

Shaka inherited the rocket launcher from his uncle, who was killed in combat, and says he has fired his rocket launcher 30 times.

"I've hit a tank and an ambulance," he says proudly.

"An ambulance?!"

"Yeah, but it was really carrying ammunition," Shaka explains. "They aren't real ambulances."

He points proudly to a body lying face down in a doorway across the street, the building ravaged by fire and rocket explosions. The man, a Kadhafi soldier, had been badly wounded when his armoured vehicle was hit, and was gunned down as he tried to flee.

Suddenly, mortar fire. Everyone scatters for the cover of houses and shops. Three explosions shatter the silence, shaking the walls. No one is hit.

A couple of blocks away, in a garage that has been transformed into a barracks and canteen, Mohammed Salafi, 21, and four of his comrades rest, sipping tea.

Salafi is wearing around his neck a basketball medal whose ribbons have the red, white and blue colours of France, which he found in a shop.

"I haven't been home in two weeks," he says, "and it's not that far away. But I'd rather be here at the front with the lads.

"Some people claim we belong to Al-Qaeda," he says, stroking his short beard. "But that's not true. We respect God. That's all. There aren't any Al-Qaeda here. We don't need them.

"We just need help gaining our victory. We want the French army on our side, not (Al-Qaeda chief Osama) Bin Laden."

France is widely respected by the rebels because Paris was the first government to recognise their Transitional National Council and President Nicolas Sarkozy led early calls on the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone on Libya.

And help they need, if they are to triumph.

Of 20 young fighters interviewed by AFP on Tuesday, not a single one of them has any previous military experience.

The most charistmatic among them come to be called group leaders, but that's about all. Khaled, dressed entirely in black, his face ferocious behind a thick beard, is one of them.

He tells the youths in a firm voice: "Never move forward until you are told to. We need to make sure a street has been made safe before we advance."

Far from Tripoli Avenue, in a quiet neighbourhood, Salahedin introduces himself as one of the leaders. Wearing a flight jacket, and a keffiyeh on his head, he says he is a former Mirage fighter pilot.

He sits in his 4X4, with two satellite phones and a small radio that is silent.

"We have plenty of fighters," he says. "More than 500. What we need are modern weapons. Anti-tank rockets. For now, we hit them with rocket-propelled grenades and with home-made bombs, made from TNT found in the quarries.

"With real weapons, we'd chase them out of Misrata in a matter of days."


By Michel Moutot

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