Bristol to Libya: Travels around Benghazi

by anarcho2libya
on Thursday 16 Jun 2011

type: News Report
topic: Peace
region: Bristol
alls well over here im putting in a fuse box for the red cross/crescent at a clinic tomorrow , have made contact with the eng support group they are the local non military techs in this town they were responsible for the truck and containers full of sand used to block and divide gadafis troops and lots more and they are still busy 3 mine groups showed up to start clearing the battle litter.  ill talk to them next

Ive had a few job interviews in my time but never one at midnight. The technician , unlike most rebels was in Gadafis army right up until the war broke out. I often wondered about this guy because he lived in Benghazi with his his wife and 5 kids but worked in in a base in the west, if it had have been the other way around which side would have he been on?

I had my doubts about joining in at this level of the rebellion, this place was clearly a military base albeit a small one (One and a half acre disused phone company building) But the more they explained who they were and how they came to be there the more comfortable i felt. Although situated in Benghazi they were a support unit from Ajdabia , the guys i talked to were new to all things military and joined up for a variety of reasons , an overall dislike/hate of Gadaffi got them started in Feb but when their friends and relatives started getting killed (either in street demos or fighting) they realized there was no going back,they are too afraid. Some stories for joining were more personal like the middle class well dressed , consultant engineer who calmly moentioned in conversation that he had spent 7 years in prison in Tripoli for being an anti Gadafi activist and the 22 year old whose father was in Abu Salim prison in 1996 but didnt find out for 15 years that his father had been killed (along with 1100+ other prisoners). During this time his family were still sending him money , clothes and food. he wasnt bitter just sad at the loss and looking forward to the future.

The reason they set up their own base was that they wanted thier own supply chain for their defence of Aldabia .All the equipment was secure and they had somwhere to go if Ajdabia fell , which it had done 5 or 6 times already. Some of them expressed a distinct lack of enthusiasim for rebel command /TNC in Benghazi , it was a sentiment i was going to hear a bit more of in my travels in Libya

On my days off i went around Benghazi looking at the "sights" , the courthouse is in the centre its walls adorned with pictures not only of all the people who have died in the last 30 or so years, like the 1100+ people who were massacred at the Abu Salim prison in 1996 ,victims of the airliner that people reckon was downed by Gadafi and mixed in with these pictures are 10s of photos of people who have disappeared in the last three decades some with phone numbers printed on to contact if anyone has any information.The rest of the wall is covered in anti Gadafi graffiti something which before the revolution would have got you into serious trouble. Beside the courthouse is Freedom Square and its main stage where the hold rallies every other day of the week but almost as a reality check the square is split in half with one section screened off for women and kids only, this country as far as i could see is 100% Islamic, not radical but deeply entrenched , i found it depressing although the media centre is completely controlled and run by women.

Behind the square there are about 30 large tents and marquees set up each one for a different organisation some of them are newly formed workers unions, Peoples Engineering Committee,groups to remember the dead/martyrs and lots of islamic groups

On my round town travels i visited as many bases as i could find to see what was going on and hoping to find someone else like me doing the same thing.Closest i came was a pair of born in England Libyan lads who were working in a pizza place in Manchester and legged it as soon as they could get the money for a ticket to Cairo. All the bases i visited were partly or wholly trashed (looking like a tescos on stokes croft) and burnt out which must have been great fun at the time but now almost two months later they must be feeling the pinch, the weapons they need to attack or just defend themselves ly burnt out by there own hand. I ve visited a yard that looked like an oil slick hit it , what they were doing was taking burnt out anti aircraft guns soaking them for two days in baths of petrol then stripping with their bare hands sorting them into spare parts and sending them off to other workshops. This was the only place i didnt ask for work. The biggest former army base in Benghazi is known as the Katiba, 20 acres big right at the edge of the city centre it was the focus of the Feb. uprising. Its easy to find and get into because someone got a JCB and knocked down the entire mile long outside wall, all of its buildings (except the mosque) burnt black and vehicles too, at anytime in daylight theres always people nicking stuff from there , all the copper is gone including the mains incoming cable from 6 feet underground , the entire telephone system,door and window frames,the blastdoors off the bunkers, every metal roofing sheet off all the warehouses, a ton of marble capstones off the steps to the officers quarters and most of the plumbing. There was so many small groups of people working there each with a full kit of tools and a vehicle it looked like a giant reverse building site. Its all good natured people happily showing you what they are thieving, sharing lunch. (i got some Libyan army tunic buttons)

At this point im going to cut the narrative a bit short,. I was planning on writing one more article about Benghazi but some things are starting to wear on my mind like the consistent comments coming in asking me to be more investigative and analytical about whats gone and going on out here and after spending a few weeks welding weapons and weapon systems together, it started to get to me . I decided to switch to a more constructive/ civilian role i attempted to join in with th Peoples Eng. Committee, a group who's focus is on refurbishing burnt out buildings and handing them over for use by the government , media, hospital or refugee use but as my luck would have it the only work they were doing was on trashed/burnt buildings on army bases , which no non Libyans are allowed work on.

With little option left in Benghazi, the place wasnt damaged much at all so theres nothing to fix . I (reluctantly) got a press pass and put my name down for a place on the boat to Misrata. Since it was heavily bombed (by Nato,rebels and Gadafi) and still under siege with only small fishing boats and a ferry to supply it, it seems like the best place to be just not the safest. I leave in 4 days