Rebels In Western Libya Train For Move On Tripoli Rebel commanders in the western mountains of Libya say they are supplying dissident forces in Tripoli with weapons in advance of a march on the capital. It's not clear how feasible their plan is, but interviews with residents who have fled suggest that Gadhafi's hold on Tripoli may be weakening.
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Rebels In Western Libya Train For Move On Tripoli

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Rebels In Western Libya Train For Move On Tripoli

Rebels In Western Libya Train For Move On Tripoli

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Rebel commanders in western Libya say they're supplying anti-government forces in Tripoli with weapons in preparation for a march on the capital. Claims like this have been made before, and there are still few signs that the rebels are capable of taking Moammar Gadhafi's stronghold. Still, interviews with residents who recently fled Tripoli suggest that Gadhafi's hold on the capital may be weakening.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from the town of Zintan in the mountainous west of the country.

(Soundbite of marching)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Marching in formation down Zintan's main street, these recruits are the rebel army's elite force training for urban combat.

Mr. ABDUL HAMID: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Their commander, Abdul Hamid, says they're being taught guerrilla warfare and street fighting. Now that we will be moving out of the mountains and towards Tripoli, Abdul Hamid says, we need to change our tactics. Rebel leaders here say they are in touch with rebel sympathizers in Tripoli.

Colonel JUMA IBRAHIM (Senior Rebel Coordinator, Zintan): Just now, we supplied some weapons and some equipment, just guns and the phone satellite.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Colonel Juma Ibrahim is one of the heads of the military council here in Zintan.

Col. IBRAHIM: Groups which I have contact with them, I told them, stay. Don't move.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The plan, Juma says, is to coordinate an assault with dissident cells in the capital. But what's not clear is how feasible that really is. Rebels here have been making steady but slow progress against Gadhafi's forces. They lack manpower and supplies, though. But Gadhafi's grip on Tripoli may be less secure than it once was, according to families who recently fled the capital.

The people interviewed by NPR for this story asked not to have their names used for fear of reprisals against relatives still living under Gadhafi's control. Their claims are impossible to independently verify.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In a bare house with no electricity, members of this family are taking shelter. They left Tripoli with only a few belongings, telling no one they were leaving.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This man says he lived near the restive Tripoli neighborhoods of Tajoura and Souq al-Juma, and he's friends with many of the activists there. He paints a picture of a city where order is breaking down.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Gangs of plainclothes thugs empowered by the secret police, he says, set up checkpoints; many simply steal money and cell phones. At night, gunfire crackles through the streets as anti-government fighters attack loyalist forces.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At one checkpoint near his house, two Gadhafi loyalists were killed and their vehicle destroyed in one such exchange. Gas and food shortages have left the population ever more restive, he says. And smaller acts of defiance are a regular occurrence. People launch balloons painted with rebel flags, for example.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But there is still a culture of fear, he says. Anti-government cells in Tripoli are scattered, disorganized with few weapons or means of communication. The lack of fuel also means rebels can't move around.

And arrests are still taking place. A few weeks ago, the son of one of his neighbors was picked up and imprisoned for suspected rebel sympathies.

Unidentified Child: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And it's not only the adults that are targeted. Schools were still open in the capital until the end of May. This 12-year-old boy tells me any children caught painting the rebel flag or making anti-Gadhafi statements would be reported and their parents taken away. The boy says he would regularly be called a rat and a traitor because his family is originally from the rebel-held western mountains. The boy's father says he told all his three children not to talk about politics in public.

Another family who also recently fled Tripoli tells similar stories of being targeted because they come from Zintan.

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The patriarch of this group says there's no doubt that Gadhafi's forces still control Tripoli, but most of the people are against him. They are just waiting for fighters from Zintan or Misrata to make their way to the capital, he says.

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The day is coming when Tripoli will rise up again, he says. It's only a matter of time.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News in the western mountains.

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