It's A Privilege To See A Conflict's Whole Arc

After nine weeks reporting on the progress of Libyan rebels, NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reflects on the state of the country. She says to come into the capital Tripoli with rebel forces was one of the "most extraordinary things" she's been able to do.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

Over the weekend, NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro packed up her microphone and left Libya. She's taking a short break after months of covering the conflict.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

When Libya's uprising began, Lourdes was among the first reporters into the eastern part of the country.

GREENE: Later, she reported from Libya's western mountains, from Tripoli under Moammar Gadhafi, and finally from that same city under rebel control.

INSKEEP: During a quiet moment in Tunisia now, Lourdes was thinking about all she'd seen.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: I crossed into Libya days after the revolution started. So I've seen this almost from its very germination. And to be able to come into Tripoli with the rebel forces was, I think, one of the most extraordinary things.

It's a privilege to be able to see the arc of a conflict. I remember these rebels when they started off. And they were basically young guys carrying guns who were students and doctors and lawyers, taxi drivers and they ended up being hardened fighters by the end. You know, when they moved into Tripoli, these guys knew what they were doing.

INSKEEP: Well, now obviously the rebels were welcomed when they came into Tripoli and there was a lot of celebration, as it was clear that Gadhafi had been at least displaced. Do they still seem welcome after a number of days in the city?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It depends what part of town. Certainly, I remember going in to the Abu Salim District, which is in the south of the city, and driving around there was a very different experience; sullen faces, not people sort of cheering, no rebel flags everywhere, some of the green flags still up in certain areas. So it just depends exactly where you're going.

But I think one of the things from having been in Tripoli under Gadhafi's rule and having been in Tripoli now, is that people really - you can see it in their faces. People are relieved. First of all, that it's over. And secondly, I think they feel, by and large, most people, victorious. And the rebels haven't worn out their welcome because this isnt an army of occupation. This is Libyans, you know, who are on the streets of the capital city.

INSKEEP: You do wonder if something unpredictable could happen in Tripoli, though. For the very reason that veteran correspondents like you, who spent time in Tripoli near the end of Gadhafi's rule, spoke of it as one of the creepiest, scariest places they had ever been. It was clearly a place that had been ruled in a very strange way for decades. That has got to affect the minds of the people who've lived through that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, absolutely. I think there's no doubt that Libya is in for a bumpy ride. You don't take the lid off of 42 years of brutal dictatorship and expect everything to be plain sailing. There are many disparate groups, they all want different things. And I think some people don't know what they want yet and that will be defined in the coming weeks and months and years.

INSKEEP: Is the government functioning? Is the trash being picked up? Is traffic being managed by police or the schools open? Anything like that?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: No. No. No. No. Basically the city is being run by a sort of stabilization committee of disparate people, some of them expat Libyans, some of them from different parts of the country. And they're dealing with water issues, garbage collection, all other these kinds of things. But it's a stopgap measure and the city still feels very fragile.

INSKEEP: Do you see a lot of these expats coming home in Tripoli in the last few days?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Everywhere. They're everywhere. That's where I've met them all. I didn't know - I knew that expat Libyans had a role, I didn't know how big the role was until I actually saw them all in Tripoli. For some of them it was one of the most important moments of their life. They hadn't back and many, many years. Some of them have come and lent their expertise. For example, the stabilization committee, the guy who is in charge of water is the Libyan exile who lives in Malta, who studied in the United States, who sang me the University of Boulder, Colorado fighting song...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...when I first met him because he's a big - he lived in Boulder for many years and was a big Boulder fan.

INSKEEP: OK.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you're seeing a lot of disparate people showing up there. It remains to be seen exactly what their long-term role will be.

INSKEEP: And, of course, the challenge is they may not want to be seen as seizing power from the locals, people who will feel like they are the locals, not these exiles.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Exactly. That's certainly going to be one of the problems. But some of them have already formed political parties, financed them, or are waiting in the wings for that to happen so that they can launch their political careers in Libya. So, you know, it's a mixed bag.

INSKEEP: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro-Navarro covered Libya's uprising from its earliest days. She has now left Tripoli, at least for now.

Lourdes, get some rest.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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