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. Lori Holloway

    He hasn't posted here or on Twitter for a couple of hours now. Hope he's alright....

    February 22, 2011 at 1:55 am | Report abuse |
  2. wc progressive

    ben, stay safe, your reporting from the middle east has been exceptional, and must watch for relative news. Your continued work will be invaluable!

    February 22, 2011 at 2:00 am | Report abuse |
  3. hello

    Someone at TIme Warner give this man a big fat bonus when he returns.

    It's both exhilarating and pathetic that BenCNN probably has more on-the-ground knowledge of the current state of Libya
    than the entire CIA.

    Newsflash: spy satellites can't replace human interaction!

    February 22, 2011 at 2:05 am | Report abuse |
  4. Jeff Ikhinmwin

    When its time,that's the same way you will cross to Nigeria. Egyptians and Libyans have not gone through ten percent of what we have seen here. As I write this message,I have not seen electricity in my area for days now. Thanks Ben for your bravery.

    February 22, 2011 at 2:06 am | Report abuse |
  5. CC

    So happy for Benghazi finally rid of the tyrant but Tripoli is still in trouble. Looking forward to reading more of your articles, the first journalist allowed in Libya – this is certainly historic!

    Thank you and take care.

    (www.youtube.com/ccdiary)

    February 22, 2011 at 2:24 am | Report abuse |
  6. Rommel

    Tell them we are watching and that our prayers and thoughts are with them.

    February 22, 2011 at 2:24 am | Report abuse |
  7. Adrienne

    Thank you so much for all of your work, and thinking about you and your crew–thank you, thank you for your bravery.

    February 22, 2011 at 2:25 am | Report abuse |
  8. Toebin

    Stay safe Ben. I'll light a candle in your name and pray for your safe return. What you are doing is important !

    February 22, 2011 at 2:40 am | Report abuse |
  9. raven

    @the people who are criticising and minimizing, I for one am happy to give credit where credit is due . I think it speaks volumes that they are willing to report from a place that has banned journalists.(if theyll fire on thier own peaceful citizens imagine what theyd do to a foreign reporter and crew ). Im proud and more than happy to pat them on the back . Who doesnt need that from time to time ?

    February 22, 2011 at 2:44 am | Report abuse |
  10. Sog

    Be careful!

    February 22, 2011 at 3:09 am | Report abuse |
  11. Jeff Ikhinmwin

    @ben this what I wrote,not the one that was credited to me. Thanks. When its time,that’s the same way you will cross to Nigeria. Egyptians and Libyans have not gone through ten percent of what we have seen here. As I write this message,I have not seen electricity in my area for days now. Thanks Ben for your bravery.

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

    Libya Loves YOU!

    February 22, 2011 at 3:48 am | Report abuse |
  13. Uther

    Courage Ben. God speed and success!

    February 22, 2011 at 3:51 am | Report abuse |
  14. Maggie Young

    Ben you are such a brave and caring man!
    I wish I were as courageous as you are...
    You have made me realize how bad things really are around the world. We as Americans are so spoiled and selfish that we just don't understand how bad it could really be! I had no idea! So who cares if I have to pay a few dollars more this week to fill up my gas tank?! I still have my freedom! Thats something that people are actually dying for today around the world! Thank you for opening my eyes to how much we truly have to be grateful for... I now honestly realize what my US Navy husband has been fighting for all this time. I never really got it until now.

    Thank you so much Ben for everything you are doing!
    You are not just effecting the Libyans today.
    May God bless and protect you
    You are truly a hero!

    February 22, 2011 at 6:00 am | Report abuse |
  15. Peter

    Cant do much with text, we need video / images!

    February 22, 2011 at 6:05 am | Report abuse |
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