In eastern Libya, citizens buoyant and cautious as they await Gadhafi's move
CNN's Ben Wedeman is reporting from eastern Libya, part of which no longer appeared to be in Moammar Gadhafi's control.
February 21st, 2011
11:49 PM ET

In eastern Libya, citizens buoyant and cautious as they await Gadhafi's move

Editor's note: CNN's Ben Wedeman reports from eastern Libya after crossing into that country from Egypt. He is the first Western television correspondent to enter and report from Libya during the current crisis.

"Your passports please," said the young man in civilian clothing toting an AK-47 at the Libyan border.

"For what?" responded our driver, Saleh, a burly, bearded man who had picked us up just moments before. "There is no government. What is the point?" He pulled away with a dismissive laugh.

On the Libyan side, there were no officials, no passport control, no customs.

I've seen this before. In Afghanistan after the route of the Taliban, in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Government authority suddenly evaporates. It's exhilarating on one level; its whiff of chaos disconcerting on another.

The scene on the Libyan side of the border was jarring. Men - and teenage boys - with clubs, pistols and machine guns were trying to establish a modicum of order.

Hundreds of Egyptian workers were trying to get out, their meager possessions - bags, blankets, odds and ends - piled high on top of minibuses.

Egyptian border officials told us that 15,000 people had crossed from Libya on Monday alone.

"Welcome to free Libya," said one of the armed young men now controlling the border.

"Free Libya" was surprisingly normal, once we got out of the border area. We stopped for petrol - there were no lines - and saw some stores were open. The electricity was working. The cell phone system is still functioning, though you can't call abroad. The internet, however, has been down for days.

On the other hand, we did see regular groups of more armed young men in civilian clothing, stopping cars, checking IDs, asking questions. All were surprised, but happy, to see the first television news crew to cross into Libya since the uprising began February 15.

They were polite, if a tad giddy. Having thrown off the yoke of Moammar Gadhafi's 42-year rule (longer than most Libyans have been alive), it's understandable.

As we made our way westward from the border, driver Saleh gave me a running commentary on all the sins of the Gadhafi family and its cronies:

"You see all the potholes in this lousy road? This should be a four-lane highway. Gadhafi spent hardly a dinar on this part of the country."

"You see that rest house? Gadhafi's son built it, and overcharged the government."

"You see that house? It was stolen from its owner and given to one of Gadhafi's sons."

"You see those flashes? That's an ammunition dump an army officer loyal to Gadhafi set on fire before fleeing to Tripoli."

Saleh was also full of useful advice, I think.

"If you get stopped by forces loyal to Gadhafi, tell them you're a German doctor. Don't say you're a journalist. And say your colleagues are doctors, too."

When we finally reached our destination - which I can't disclose - we drove up to a nondescript villa and were greeted by a dozen men who could barely contain their excitement.

After endless handshakes, embraces and greetings, a man in his 50s wearing a dark overcoat and red sweater pushed through the crowd.

"You must show the world what has happened here. We will show you everything, everything!" I'll call him Ahmed, and he described himself as one of the leaders of "the resistance." He had studied briefly in the United States, but his academic career was cut short when he was imprisoned for three years for leading student protests against Gadhafi in the 1970s.

He accompanied us to our accommodations, asking us about American football, baseball, the American university where he studied. I was able to get a few questions in sideways. He told me the army in the east had joined the
anti-Gadhafi movement, that there were still pro-Gadhafi elements operating in the east (and therefore we needed to be very careful).

He and many others in eastern Libya are well aware their struggle against Gadhafi's regime is going to be tough, and bloodier still. They may be buoyed by their success so far, but they're under no illusion that Gadhafi isn't willing to use everything in his arsenal - aircraft, mercenaries, whatever it takes - to stay in power.

At the border, a man asked me, "Did you see he used helicopters and war planes against protesters in Tripoli today? This is genocide."

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Filed under: Libya
soundoff (75 Responses)
  1. Rosa

    I am a Libyan student at the US. I am living the worst days in my life ever, nowadays. I am too scared of losing my family in this massacre and worries are killing me about my country. On top of that we- The Libyan students here- do not know if our scholarship and allowance will still be given to us or not. We receive warnings from the embassy to either demonstrate in the favor of Gaddafi or else. Why is it the case with us- Libyan people- to live all our lives under oppression?We paid enough for the change. We lived 42 years of fear and humiliation and now we are losing hundreds of our people for the change which does not seem to be happening quickly. All we need from the world is a real stand with us to get back our freedom, respect, justice and dignity. Our main problem now is the headquarter ( alqiyada) that Gaddafi lives in now. It represents a central location to control all the finance, media, broadcasting, weapons and the attack. Gaddafi will resist there for a long time attacking his people , giving orders to the mercenary and his followers to kill Libyans in the streets, depriving the Libyans from food and money and chasing anyone raising a word against him.
    It seems that these big countries and organizations can not be modest enough to feel those people who are not of benefit to them and who represent no threatening to Israel. Why care then?

    February 24, 2011 at 5:48 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Rosa

    Ben, if you will be among the journalists visiting and investigating the facts in Tripoli on Friday, you need to know that Gaddafi is working hard now to hide all the evidences such as throwing the dead bodies in the sea, painting the walls. taking the wounded patients from the hospitals to their houses even those in the ICU, and threatening all the people from saying anything to you. Thus, you got to be creative- as usual- to find the truth. also, u need to remember that people in Tripoli are still under the captivity of the government, so those who u will ask should be scared and forced to hide the facts.

    February 24, 2011 at 7:00 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Rosa

    STAY SAFE

    February 24, 2011 at 7:01 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Jeff Morgan

    Ben,
    Great reporting. I work at Cyrene and with Benghazi Univ.
    One of only US NGOs in Libya. Try to visit Cyrene UNESCO
    World Heritage site.
    Be careful you are making history,
    Jeff
    1.650.814.2045

    February 25, 2011 at 1:19 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. astwhya

    WE SALUTE !! YOU JUST BECOME A PART OF MASTER PEACE ABOUT BLODY BALLET WITH DICTATORSHIP IN EYES OF CIVILIZED WORLD , BECARFUL SATY IN DOOR YOU ARE MAKING HISTORY FOR THE AMERICAN MEDIA i HOPE WILL NICK COME THREW FROM OTHER SIDE !!
    HE IS TOUGH ON ENEMY OF HUMANITY

    February 26, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. david bidlack

    every news network is reporting on libya. their are lots of people who think our president is not doing enough to help. i am 60 years old and have seen marines blowen up in a bulding in the middle east , embassies blowen up , a person in a wheel chair pushed off a ship to drown, planes blowen out of the sky , trains blowen up in a station and two very big buildings taken down in new york city. can someone explain to me why i should care even a little bit that Muslim are killing Muslims any where in the middle east! we can't winn there because if we do nothing or something we will be blamed by muslims for anything thats wrong in the middle east! let them keep kiling each other until they stop themselves. than and only than they well come to grips that their future has always been in their hands to control not ours.

    March 1, 2011 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Terry C - NJ

      Ghaddafi is dead.

      And I agree with you, David. We need to get out of that region of the world and let those people solve their own problems. We have done nothing to stabilize that region. We have only made matters worse.

      October 20, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
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