Rebels Battle For Control Of Libya Is Not Over Yet

Aug 23, 2011
Originally published on August 23, 2011 5:12 am



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


And I'm Renee Montagne.

In Libya, confusion today over what progress the rebels have made in their battle to take Tripoli. The rebel's most dramatic claim, a claim that they'd captured Moammar Gadhafi's son and heir apparent fell apart when Saif Al-Islam Gadhafi made a surprise visit to foreign journalists last night. It raises questions about what is happening with the transitional government in the rebel capital of Benghazi.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Benghazi and she joined us to talk about it.

Good morning.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, I know you're in Benghazi and then Saif appeared in Tripoli. But tell us what you know about that. He was supposed to be in rebel custody.

SARHADDI NELSON: This arrest of Saif Al-Islam was the thing that really caused people to pour out into the streets of Benghazi. So it was a very, very important coup. And it was not only announced by the Transitional National Council but also by the ICC, you know, by the court in The Hague. And so this really comes as a big blow and embarrassment for the rebels and for the international community, that this man, that Saif, shows up at the Rixos Hotel, which is, of course, where the foreign correspondents are that were invited by Gadhafi's Libya and, you know, parades around, takes them even out to Bab al-Aziziya, which is, of course, the compound that is Mr. Gadhafi's compound. I mean that's quite a boisterous move, if you will, and one that is certain to be very embarrassing to the rebels.

MONTAGNE: Well, of course you're in Benghazi - again, the rebel capital. What are the rebels saying about the claim to have gotten Saif in custody and other conflicting statements they've made?

SARHADDI NELSON: Well, they'll have to say something today. Certainly the entire press corps that's here has poured out to the headquarters of the Transition National Council to see what they have to say about this. It's something that's quite embarrassing to them, again.

And also, Mr. Jalil yesterday expressed other concerns that they're having with the rebels, the fact that they're worried that they're not observing human rights. They're worried that they're doing revenge killings. They're stealing things from people who perhaps were on the other side of this uprising or battles. And basically he threatened to resign yesterday if such behavior does not stop.

MONTAGNE: What have the last couple of days been like there in Benghazi? It sounds like probably a bit of a rollercoaster ride.

SARHADDI NELSON: Yes. There were not as many celebrations last night as there were the first night when the rebels went into Tripoli and when these claims of arrests of Gadhafi's sons were made. So - but there still were fireworks being fired but it seems like people are a little more cautious and their jubilation has been tempered somewhat by some of the developments in recent days, the fact that Tripoli is not secure.

And actually, the rebel leaders, and certainly the people here in Benghazi who run things, were cautioned against assuming that it was done. You know, as one senior TNC official told me, basically with a city of two million you have to be prepared for unexpected and unpleasant sometimes surprises. And so I think that's what we're seeing now and I think the residents are realizing this is not over yet.

MONTAGNE: So given the concern for surprises in Tripoli, are they talking about making a move of this Transitional National Council government to Tripoli?

SARHADDI NELSON: Well, yesterday it was Jalil said - and again, he's the leader of the council - he said that as soon as it's safe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SARHADDI NELSON: That was sort of the timeline that was given. There's certainly pressure on them to do it. Not just pressure perhaps internationally or some hope of getting this thing moving forward, but also by people in Benghazi. They'd like to see the council move. I mean they're not I haven't run into anyone who's concerned about Benghazi losing it's sort of spotlight as being the rebel capital. They prefer to see them in Tripoli. So the pressure is on but right now it certainly doesn't make sense for them to go while the city is so unsafe. And they plan not to go until the city is safe.

MONTAGNE: Soraya, thanks very much.

SARHADDI NELSON: You're welcome.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Benghazi, Libya. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.