NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Libyan Rebels Ask Oil Workers To Return To Brega


Some of the toughest battles fought in Libya have been around oil terminals on the Mediterranean coast east of Tripoli. Oil towns like Brega repeatedly changed hands between pro and anti-Gadhafi forces as each side sought to control the country's oil supply. This week, rebels recaptured Brega. Some residents returned home yesterday for the first time in months to see if their houses were still standing. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson went there and filed this report.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Faraj Shapir finds little solace in his homecoming. The 35-year-old hospital worker is one of scores of male residents who've come to Brega to see if it is safe for their families to return.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

SARHADDI NELSON: Shapir steps through what used to be a sliding glass door at the ransacked home of one of his brothers, where the cleanup has already begun. It's a far more chaotic scene at a second brother's house nearby. Broken furniture and fixtures and children's toys lie about in towering piles in every room. Shapir is heartbroken, and not just by the damage.

Mr. FARAJ SHAPIR (Hospital Worker): (Foreign language spoken)

SARHADDI NELSON: He says every picture of his wife, Nasreen, was stolen. She died last year at age 20 from pregnancy-related complications.

Mr. SHAPIR: (Foreign language spoken)

SARHADDI NELSON: To Shapir, the devastation is a reminder of the hardship of living for decades under Moammar Gadhafi's rule. He was sent to prison a couple of years ago for preaching at a local mosque that people had the right to refuse to go along with everything Gadhafi said.

Mr. SHAPIR: (Foreign language spoken)

SARHADDI NELSON: Now Gadhafi is gone, Shapir notes with a dismissive wave. He compares the former leader to a fly that keeps on bothering you until you finally catch it.

But it's clear not everyone here is convinced the former leader and his forces are gone for good. Brega, with its thousands of white and pastel homes, feels like a ghost town.

(Soundbite of water dripping)

SARHADDI NELSON: Shapir's leaking water tank, riddled with bullet holes, is one of the few sounds that can be heard. Battles fought here are evident not only by the rubble left by gunfire and shelling but in the vast amount of graffiti painted on walls. Pro-Gadhafi messages have been crossed out, replaced by slogans insulting the leader.

Next door, the oil refinery and terminal are also in bad shape. At least one fuel tank is on fire, sending up swirling columns of black smoke. A green uniform discarded by a Gadhafi soldier lies on the ground in front of a building pockmarked by bullets and shells. Rebel officials have asked oil workers to return to work by next week.

Abdullah Abdul Rahman, an oil worker turned driver for Western reporters, says he'll be one of those heeding the call.

(Soundbite of banging)

SARHADDI NELSON: He says he's here at a major refinery and yet forced to siphon gasoline from a friend's car to avoid being stranded, as fuel is hard to come by in Libya these days.

Mr. ABDULLAH ABDUL RAHMAN: Nothing is working here. Everything is shut down.

SARHADDI NELSON: Rahman says he hopes the damage to the Brega terminal can be quickly repaired so that Libya's oil business can resume.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.