Rebels Sweep Into Libya's Capital Tripoli

It appears to be just a matter of time before the rebels take complete control of the capital. There are reports of heavy fighting near Moammar Gadhafi's compound but there is no sign of Gadhafi.

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Rebels are swiftly gaining ground in the Libyan capital of Tripoli. There has been heavy fighting near Moammar Gadhafi's compound. There's still no sign of Gadhafi, but two of his sons have been captured.

Recent reports say that rebel forces may have taken control of state TV headquarters in Tripoli, and it appears to be just a matter of time before the rebels take complete control of the capital.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro joined us from Tripoli with an update.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yesterday what we saw was the rebels sort of speeding through neighborhoods, going into Green Square, getting ahead of themselves. We're now seeing the bulk of the rebel forces slowly moving through neighborhoods, trying to set up checkpoints, clear them out of suspected Gadhafi loyalists, snipers, any regime elements that stayed behind. And it's a very slow process, I can tell you, having been with them. And also a very nerve-wracking one. I mean these guys are very jumpy, they're very nervous. There's constant sort of rumors that there's snipers in buildings. In fact, I've been in a firefight at one point where they were shooting at one of these suspected snipers.

And you know, there are actually even dead bodies on the streets of some neighborhoods. We've seen men in uniforms, obviously Gadhafi's soldiers who were battling it out, clear evidence that the fight for Tripoli was not violent (unintelligible).

MONTAGNE: And do you get we're hearing some reports that Gadhafi is sending forces into Tripoli. Do you have any knowledge of that?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, that's certainly the rumor here. I am with one of the largest groups that came into Tripoli, the Tripoli Brigade, the first ones into Tripoli. They've taken over a base here in the downtown area. And they are sort of trying to consolidate their forces. They are trying to prepare in case there is some sort of action against them.

I haven't seen any evidence at that moment, being in the center of Tripoli where I am, that there is any movement by Gadhafi troops. I mean there have been a few skirmishes, isolated incidents of gunfire. There is of course that fight at Bab al-Aziziya, Gadhafi's compound.

What we are seeing feels very post-apocalyptic here in a lot of the neighborhoods empty, just the rebels moving around, people staying very much close to home.

MONTAGNE: And that fighting at the Gadhafi compound, does that suggest that he's there? Because his whereabouts has been a great mystery.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: His whereabouts have been a great mystery. Of course his two sons were taken here in Tripoli. It does suggest that Gadhafi is probably still here as well. He always said he'd never leave Libya and that he would never leave Tripoli. And the fact that loyalists are fighting so hard around his compound perhaps could suggest that he's there.

Bab al-Aziziya has always been the center of Gadhafi's control. It's been bombed repeatedly by NATO forces. It's hard to imagine that he would still be there. But it is the scene of a great battle right now.

MONTAGNE: Well, just finally, Lulu, how are the rebels going to make the transition from being fighters to being in charge of security in the capital, or the country itself, actually?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's exactly right. I mean they are now going to have to assume control of Libya. And they're moving in here, they're securing areas. But you know, these are guys with guns. They're young men who have taught themselves how to fight and that's what they've been doing for the past six months, in a bloody civil war. And now they are in the city and they're having to secure it among civilian populations women, children but they are Libyan, they say. You know, this is not a foreign group coming in to a foreign capital. This is Libyans coming to liberate other Libyans, they say.

However, I've spoken to some of the older members of the rebel force and they do say that one of their priorities will be, after this is all over, to get the guns back from some of these young men so that it doesn't have the feel of lawlessness and so it doesn't turn into some kind of roving bands of militia, armed militias, in the capital.

But right now it's very early days. I mean I am literally watching this city inch by inch being taken over the rebels. What we saw yesterday were the rebels essentially coming in very dramatically and taking over the city. But the real work begins today, when they go through neighborhoods, where they talk to people, where they essentially take over this city and eventually this country.

MONTAGNE: Lulu, thanks very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: We've been talking with NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

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