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. Mary

    Ben Wedeman! They don't get much braver than you and your crew. Stay safe.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Christy

      Well put, Mary.

      February 22, 2011 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
    • ALZ

      BEN, YOU'VE BEEN IN LIBYA FOR OVER 24HRS NOW, WHERE IS THE TRUTH? CNN WAS PICKED BY GADDAFI FOR A REASON HUH?

      February 23, 2011 at 1:38 am | Report abuse |
  2. Sazzle UK

    Ben, May God be with you. Your courage and love of the truth will be your shield. You risk your life to give a voice to the silenced and open the eyes of the world. Please be careful.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
  3. Patrick

    Thank you for all your reporting and frank analysis over the past few weeks Ben. Your tweets are also very informative. Please stay safe, and keep up the amazing work !

    February 22, 2011 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
  4. Dahlia

    Ben Wedeman, you are the best, the absolute best.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Geraint

      Get a life!

      February 22, 2011 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
  5. tilmeismoney

    Kadafi, your time is UP, the guillutine awaits you.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
  6. raven

    My thoughts are with you Ben and crew . Very courageous and speaks to your dedication and journalistic integrity .

    February 22, 2011 at 12:42 am | Report abuse |
  7. Fahd

    Ben Wedemen, one of the rare worthy journalists at the trashy and pitiful CNN.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Fahd

      Oh, Please join Al-Jazeera English.

      February 22, 2011 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |
  8. Debra LV,NV

    Ben, Let them know THE WORLD IS WATCHING. We saw that Gadhafi ordered the slaughter of his own unarmed citizens. The Libyans are right to be proud. Running a Democracy is no piece of cake but its better than any other. The best of luck.(Ben-may all our Deities watch over you.)

    February 22, 2011 at 12:53 am | Report abuse |
  9. David Broida

    Ben – more, more more, and thanks for your brave reporting on the brave people of Lybia..

    February 22, 2011 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |
  10. SherrieGG

    Take care, Ben. You are a national treasure.

    February 22, 2011 at 12:55 am | Report abuse |
  11. y.

    Ugh!! Such a dangerous mission! Stay safe!

    February 22, 2011 at 12:58 am | Report abuse |
  12. Rogi Riverstone

    That's it?? Where's the rest? And no pictures, except that massive portrait of him? This isn't a report; it's an ego massage!

    February 22, 2011 at 1:06 am | Report abuse |
  13. Andy Coats

    Thank-you for your courage on behalf of the people of Libya. Thanks for your passion in telling their story. Be safe.

    February 22, 2011 at 1:06 am | Report abuse |
  14. Moe NY

    Mr. Wedemen: I, also, think you are very courageous regarding Libya...BUT...I would think you were even more courageous if you stayed in America and covered OUR protests....namely in WI. Obviously, you believe in freedom, and I must admit my heart goes out to the people of Libya...BUT....what is happening in America at this point in time needs to be covered by the media. Perhaps it is just me, but I believe union busting is so very wrong for so many reasons. The American workers deserve better and full coverage...honest coverage...on their fight for freedom of choice. My question to you is: Why is America and her problems taking a back seat? Take care of your own before running off to distant countries. I, if I may, will give you a choice news story.....cover and report on the union busting activities in this country...especially the Koch brothers involvement...if any (snicker). Why is it that, to my knowledge, not one reporter, news person, etc. has the courage to tackle the Koch brothers? Yes, I hope Kadafi falls, but I, also, hope the Koch brothers and their ilk hit bottom. One is a dictator, the other is trying their best to dictate.

    February 22, 2011 at 1:14 am | Report abuse |
    • rmpbklyn

      !@Moe NY, are you serious, you think unemployment is more important then genocide? How selfish and isolated are you?
      Secondly, there are many people unemployed for YEARS, just because they are not teachers with MOB unions backing them up it does not mean they don't count. I can name at least 10 close friends of mine that are looking for jobs. You care so much , what are you doing about controlling outsourcing overseas? hmmmm, you want your cheap junk and support Wal mart??? this has happened in US history other times, look up the great depression.... and yes some industries had never recovered because of companies moved overseas. look at scranton, michigan city and newark and others that are filled with empty warehouses from the day of manufacturing.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Kitt

      Mr. Wedeman is CNN's foreign correspondent, simply put.

      February 22, 2011 at 4:07 am | Report abuse |
    • jameed

      are you serious?? how much coverage does wisconsin need??? there are as many reporters in madison as there are protesters!!!

      February 22, 2011 at 8:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Zoe

      Just shut up. You're making us in Wisconsin look bad. Obviously the Libyan protests are more important. Mass genocide isn't being committed here. Libya should be on the front page of everything right now; we need to spread the word. This is MUCH more important.

      February 22, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mary

    My husband grew up in Tripoli & my late father-in-law & his oil exploration team first discovered oil in Libya. We're hoping Quaddafi will be toppled and the continuing bloodshed there stopped.

    February 22, 2011 at 1:24 am | Report abuse |
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