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Fighters In Libya's West Mostly Cut Off From Outside

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Fighters In Libya's West Mostly Cut Off From Outside


Fighters In Libya's West Mostly Cut Off From Outside

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Libya, rebels are clinging to several cities and towns in the west, and in the eastern oil port of Ras Lanuf, more airstrikes and other attacks from Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

In a moment, we'll hear the view from U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, but first, a view of western Libya from NPR's David Greene. He filed this report from just across the border in Tunisia.

DAVID GREENE: This is really a war being fought in two theaters. In one theater, Libya's east, rebels and Gadhafi loyalists have battled back and forth along the Mediterranean coast. In the other theater, Libya's west, it's different. Government soldiers are surrounding individual towns and cities with rebels holed up inside.

It's been largely uncovered by the Western media because the area is all but sealed off to everyone but residents and soldiers.

We reached a rebel fighter by phone today in Misurata, a city of 300,000 about a hundred miles from Tripoli. He said his name is Akmed(ph), a 30-year-old who's on a street watching other young men learn how to use guns.

AKMED: I am helping group preparing for the next fight. We have some old people that teach the young men how to use the weapons.

GREENE: Akmed said Gadhafi's army has been trying to gain control of Misurata for a week now using tanks and naval gunboats out on the Mediterranean. He said his group of fighters killed three of Gadhafi's men. Based on a cell phone they took from a dead soldier's pocket, Akmed said he believes the man was hired to come to Libya from elsewhere.

AKMED: I don't know what the area code is 00213 once they get his cell phone and his family starts calling from that area, 00213. Some people say they're Algerian, but we don't have time to check it.

GREENE: 213 is Algeria's country code. We also reached out to the remote village of Zintan, in the desert a hundred miles south of Tripoli, a rebel fighter named Yisa(ph) told us by phone that Gadhafi's forces have been in back and forth battles there for several days.

YISA: (Through Translator) Five times the army tried to surround the city, and five times they went running. But last night was by far the bloodiest battle yet. We think they'll attack again, maybe not by land because it's not flat here. I think they may come with airstrikes.

GREENE: The true picture in the west has been so difficult to pin down. Human rights groups have expressed alarm about reports that the military is killing civilians in large numbers. Gadhafi's government says it's rooting out terrorists.

Maybe the biggest battleground over the weekend and into today has been Zawiya, a city within 30 miles of Tripoli that rebels took early in their campaign. The military has set up roadblocks around the city.

But Martin Fletcher, associate editor of The Times of London, found a way through yesterday in a taxi from Tripoli. He said he came across a scene of destruction, burning vehicles and buildings, trees uprooted and people recovering from serious injuries in a hospital.

Mr. MARTIN FLETCHER (Associate Editor, The Times): People on respirators with severe head wounds, bullets to the abdomen, shrapnel up their sides.

GREENE: Just as the Libyan government has been accused of twisting the truth, Fletcher found some evidence of that among the rebels.

Mr. FLETCHER: We had heard before we went that the hospital was being fired on. We asked the doctors, and they said, no, that wasn't true. We were told by some of the rebels that the army had gone in and abducted wounded rebels. Again, we asked the doctors, and they said it wasn't true.

GREENE: The doctors did confirm that 30 people had died over the past few days in intense fighting. Fletcher left Zawiya yesterday with a lasting impression of the rebels he met: a group of men digging in and mostly cut off from the outside world.

Mr. FLETCHER: They greeted us like the cavalry riding to their relief. They were beside themselves with excitement. Here were people who could finally tell the world of their plight, which is really important to them, because if no one is watching, the government can do what it wants.

GREENE: The government seems to have cut off Internet and phone service to much of western Libya. Most phone calls don't go through.

David Greene, NPR News, Zarzis, Tunisia.

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