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. Dave

    Good work! Tell the Libyans we're behind them and we support their push for democracy – whatever form it may eventually take. Let them be the masters of their own fate. It's high time that tin-pot dictators and western powers happy for cushy situations took a back seat. I mean seriously – would any American citizen stand for this kind of outside interference? I hope not! Good luck Libya!

    February 22, 2011 at 6:11 am | Report abuse |
  2. Tore

    Perhaps Ben can find out why the country's communications are still closed to the outside world? With the anti-Gadaffi groups in control of large parts of the country, one would think they might be able to get control of telecommunication relays, radio stations etc.?

    Good luck and stay safe, and tell Libyans you meet that the world is watching.

    February 22, 2011 at 6:22 am | Report abuse |
  3. Jonas Savimbi

    Ben I am glad you are up and about – good to see that a bullet in the culo will not keep a good man down.

    February 22, 2011 at 6:33 am | Report abuse |
  4. mah

    ben – the colonel or his agents are probably looking for you. they can see what we can see. i hope time warner pays for a dozen security guards for you.

    February 22, 2011 at 6:35 am | Report abuse |
  5. Mo

    Someone very close to me called from Tripoli today asking for CNN to be contacted.. I am thankful from the bottom of my heart! I hope you are successful and may God be with you. Please let the Libyans know that we are doing are best to inform everyone! From what I've noticed, the whole world is watching. It was reported today that Hillary Clinton among many others are condemning Gadafi's acts, hopefully he listens!

    February 22, 2011 at 6:43 am | Report abuse |
  6. sayed fairoz

    Allah bless u my brother Ben Wedeman and your crew. Stay safe.

    February 22, 2011 at 6:53 am | Report abuse |
  7. Cesar

    Yea, we are thirsty for video and images. That's right.

    February 22, 2011 at 6:58 am | Report abuse |
  8. Vishnu

    Ben, may God bless you for your bravery and dedication to your journalist ideals. May God keep you safe.

    February 22, 2011 at 7:53 am | Report abuse |
  9. Beni Walid

    Thank you for covering the news about Libya. Please collect the facts and shared with the world about Gadaffi.

    February 22, 2011 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
  10. El Sinsé

    For more news :

    In France :

    February 22, 2011 at 8:09 am | Report abuse |
  11. speakup

    February 22, 2011 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
  12. personny

    Israel is becoming a nation.

    February 22, 2011 at 8:36 am | Report abuse |
  13. banasy

    Hope Ben stays safe, and that he gets to report on what's really happening there. I just hope that CNN doesn't get a report of his death through Gadhafi's thugs.

    On a lighter note, hey Cesar, did you see Gary Sinese posted? Maybe he can blog on personny's site! They can talk about old news, like how Israel is *becoming* a nation! They can take a ride in the Wayback Machine!

    February 22, 2011 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |
  14. Amer

    Thank you.
    The UN should enforce a no fly zone
    It is not any more an internal issue .it is a crime against Humanity

    February 22, 2011 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |

    Lt. Dan is here?

    February 22, 2011 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
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