Both Sides Claim Western Libyan City

In western Libya, where few journalists have access, there is a propaganda war raging. Both sides have been claiming control of Zawiyah, a city 30 miles west of Tripoli, where there have been battles all weekend.

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GUY RAZ, host:

In western Libya, rebels and pro-Gadhafi forces are both claiming control over the city of Zawiyah.

NPR's David Greene is following that story from eastern Tunisia. And, David, can you tell us where you are at the moment?

DAVID GREENE: I'm actually in a city called Zarzis, Tunisia, which is an hour or so west of the Libyan border on the eastern side of Tunisia. And when Libyans were coming across to visit Tunisia, this is one of their first stops they would make.

RAZ: What do we know about the town of Zawiyah, which is not too far from where you are? Who is controlling it now?

GREENE: It's a very good question. Zawiyah is about 30 miles west of Tripoli, a couple of hours to the east of here. And I just can't tell you the difference in the two pictures that we've been getting all day.

On one side, Moammar Gadhafi's government has been arguing that they're in full control. They've taken the city back from the rebels who were holding it for a while. They were showing aerial footage on Libyan state television suggesting that their tanks were in the main square of Zawiyah, controlling the situation.

And there were rallies, pro-Gadhafi rallies in Tripoli today, and government officials said that was in part because of the military successes, how they've taken Zawiyah and some other towns.

But on the other hand, you have rebel officials who have been, you know, these scattered reports telling wire services and news organizations that, you know, we repelled the Gadhafi forces, we are in control of the city. And so it's just - with so few journalists on the ground, it's really hard to know.

RAZ: And, of course, Gadhafi and his government, I mean, they control state TV. I mean, they can say whatever they want, right?

GREENE: They can get any message out they want, and that's very crucial to them to sort of control the message within Libya. And I think it's really a concern to the rebels, who want to try and get the message out to the west.

I mean, the interesting thing about western Libya, what people affiliated with the rebels say is they are in much more control of that part of Libya than the outside world knows about.

We actually spoke to a doctor. He only gave us his first name, Dr. Makruk(ph), who lives in a city very near to Zawiyah, and here's what he had to say.

Dr. MAKRUK: The change is so near. I can see it. The change is sure within few days, if not few hours.

GREENE: He was basically arguing that the rebels are really within, you know, within reach of winning this battle, the war.

RAZ: Finally, David, what kind of movement have you been seeing into Tunisia? A lot of people, a lot of Libyans, coming into Tunisia over the border today?

GREENE: Not a lot of Libyans. I mean, what we've seen is this rush of migrant workers. I mean, it's getting close to 100,000 people, migrant workers from other countries who were working in Libya. Aid agencies have done a pretty good job of starting to move a lot of the Egyptians and, you know, to get them back home.

The Bangladeshis are a huge problem. Their country is 10,000 miles from here. Their country is very poor, hasn't been able to figure out a way to get planes here to get them out. And so you see a lot of Bangladeshis wandering around on roads outside of refugee camps, just sort of wondering where to go from here.

RAZ: That's NPR's David Greene, reporting from eastern Tunisia.

David, thank you.

GREENE: Thank you, Guy.

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