Covering The Ongoing Struggle In Libya

Michele Norris speaks with NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro about covering the rebellion in the remote Nafusah Mountains of western Libya. A ragtag band of fighters, with considerable help from NATO airstrikes, has succeeded in driving leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces from most of the Nafusah plateau. They say Tripoli is next, but few outside analysts believe the rebels could sustain an offensive aimed at the Libyan capital.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

To Libya now, where NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has been covering the ongoing struggle between a determined rebel army and longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi. She's reported for us from the front lines in the east in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. She's reported from Gadhafi's seat of power in Tripoli. And most recently, she covered the fighting from the west of the country, in the remote Nafusa Mountains.

We're happy to say Lulu is taking a much deserved breather at this moment. She's in Tunisia. And she joins us now to reflect on her most recent travels in the west of Libya and how that experience compares to everything else she's seen. She's here to sort of give us a little bit of a reporter's notebook.

Lulu, so glad you're with us.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you.

NORRIS: Tell us a little bit more about the Nafusa Mountains, and I understand that you had a very hard time just getting there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, they're very remote. There these kind of sheer cliffs that rise up from the plains that go towards the coast into Tripoli. And basically, the border crossing between Tunisia and the Nafusa Mountains has been shelled pretty regularly, until very recently. And so it was very difficult to get in there. And only now are people really starting to come in, are goods starting to come in, and reporters in greater numbers starting to come in.

And so getting across was quite an adventure. Communications are down. There is no Internet. No cell phones. So when we came across, just finding accommodation, finding food was part of the struggle, really. I mean, I survived on tuna fish pretty much for three weeks while I was there. And I brought the tuna fish myself because very little is getting in there. There's a real crisis of food and other goods there at the moment.

NORRIS: A staple of a foreign correspondent's bag, a can of tuna fish, I guess.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Exactly. I became very creative with tuna fish, ketchup and mayonnaise.

NORRIS: We've learned, as much through your reporting, that there are great regional differences in Libya as we've met rebels in different parts of the country.

Tell us something about the rebel fighters that you met in this region.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Nafusa Mountains is interesting. It's a mixed place. It has a sort of resurgent Berber nationalism going on there, if you will. And they feel now that they are on the march towards Tripoli. They are very close to Tripoli. And so they really do feel that they are the sort of vanguard force of the rebels. But there's very poor communications.

I've been to the rebel sort of intelligence center, their communication center, and it's basically an office with a few radios. And this is what they're communicating with with Benghazi and also with NATO forces who are bombing the area and Gadhafi forces in that area.

And so it's a very, you know, we use this word a lot but it is true: It's a ragtag force. I've never actually been with sort of fighters before, even in this conflict, that are using things that are just so completely bizarre.

One guy was basically taking an industrial barbecue and sort of rigging it up to become a rocket launcher. Now, it's not really clear how well that was going to work on the front lines, but he was trying. And so it's kind of like a "Mad Max" war in many senses. It's not like anything I've ever experienced before.

These are guys going to the front who are doctors and lawyers, like we've seen before, with very little experience, with a great will to fight, but just sort of making it up as they're going along.

NORRIS: I understand that this is an area where there are real dangers as you move about because of the landmines that are still buried beneath the ground.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yes. Gadhafi is now - Gadhafi's forces are now using landmines pretty consistently, and they laid significant landmine fields in the front line areas, as the rebels move forward, and they're causing a great deal of difficulty.

I was with a demining group. And when I say a demining group, I really mean in the most basic sense. These were guys who basically showed up with a couple of sticks. They kneel down to pray, and then they walked into the minefields and dug these mines up with their bare hands, finding them with their eyes. And that was about it. They have very little equipment. They have very little help.

NORRIS: Are you going to be going back to Libya any time soon?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'll be going back to Libya in about two days. I'm heading to Benghazi and the fighting in Brega.

NORRIS: And I'm sure you'll have some more of that tuna fish in your bag when you head back.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sadly so.

NORRIS: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reporting there from Tunisia.

Lourdes, thank you very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro. She was reporting there from Tunisia, talking to us about her most recent travels in the west of Libya.

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