Libyan Rebels Plan Rule, Prepare Final Assault

Aug 27, 2011
Originally published on August 27, 2011 10:53 am
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SCOTT SIMON, host: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News, I'm Scott Simon. Libyan rebels say they've secured most of Tripoli and taken a key border crossing to Tunisia. That crossing is vital to getting food and supplies into the Libyan capital where the human situation is growing dire. Members of the rebel council in Benghazi say they're relocating to Tripoli where they will set up an interim government that will rule Libya into 2012. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. Soraya, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: Now, yesterday, rebel fighters began with what they certainly hope to be the final push into Sirte, Moammar Gadhafi's hometown. Any indication of how that's going?

NELSON: Well, it seems to have stalled temporarily while attempts at talks continue. The rebel fighters are having a really hard time clearing a town for Bin Jawad, which stands in the way of them and Sirte. These are the fighters coming from the east. On the other side, you have fighters about 30 miles away waiting for these reinforcements to come from the east so that they can take Sirte. And what's happened in the meantime, we spoke with one council member last night who told us that they're trying to talk with Gadhafi tribal leaders. Of course, Moammar Gadhafi is in the Gadhafi tribe. They are the most powerful tribe in Sirte. The problem is a lot of them have left Sirte and they're even divided among themselves about whether they want to talk, and to those who do want to talk want amnesty, which the rebels are not willing to agree to. So, at the moment, we're sort of in a wait-and-see mode to see if there's any way of being able to talk with these people, and if not they're just going to keep trying to push in. There have been no NATO bombardments that we are aware of in the last 24 hours though in that area.

SIMON: And what can you tell us about what's happening, specifically in Tripoli?

NELSON: Well, the rebels and certainly the commanders there say they have taken control of just about every part of Tripoli, with one key exception, which is the airport. That does seem to be an area of contention, which, of course, is making it difficult to move back and forth. But the humanitarian situation in Tripoli is quite bad right now. There is no power; there is limited water; there is no food. And what's hoped is that the rebel taking of the border crossing with Tunisia, Ras Ajdir, in recent hours, that that will open up a way of getting badly needed supplies to Tripoli.

And, Soraya, how do people in Benghazi seem to feel about the fact that the rebels are apparently relocating their base of operations into Tripoli? Do they feel less safe?

They do not. This has actually become quite the vibrant city. And I think that there is an understanding that there needs to be a presence in Tripoli in order to persuade all Libyans that this rebel council represents everyone and not just folks here in the east. Having said that, there's also a lot of anxiety here as many people here are waiting to hear if some of the people being released and broken out of prison if their family members are among them. And last night, there was a boatload of a couple hundred that returned and were reunited. So, that you have a mixture of jubilation over rebel victories and apprehension about what's happened to loved ones that they haven't heard from in many months.

SIMON: And has the rebel council or members of it revealed much about their plans for an interim government?

NELSON: Yes. They're planning to announce one in the next two weeks. Of course, that timeline could move depending on the security situation. But they are increasingly moving their base of operations to Tripoli. Several more council members are going today, including in fact, tomorrow the person that we spoke to about what was happening in Sirte; he's also planning to relocate tomorrow. And so they are slowly trying to move there. And their first order of business is going to be to try and disarm the many, many civilians who've taken up arms here. That has to be a key component of establishing law and order so that government services can resume.

SIMON: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Benghazi, Libya. Thanks very much.

NELSON: You're welcome, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.