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Libyan Rebels Use Upper Hand Over Gadhafi Loyalists


In Libya, the tide has certainly turned against Moammar Gadhafi, and that has left an uncomfortable question for the new rebel authority - how to treat Gadhafi's loyalists? NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has been spending time with some nervous Gadhafi's supporters and she sent this report from Tripoli.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: After the rebel takeover of Tripoli a week ago, Ahmed Tarhouni was certain he was going to be killed. He moved from house to house, never sleeping in the same place twice. He rarely ventured out and lied about his name. Then about mid week, his worst fears were realized. At a rebel checkpoint here fighters happened to hand one of his relatives a list of wanted men and Ahmed Tarhouni's name was at the top of it.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That relative, who was shown the list, spoke to NPR and asked not to have his name used. He says Tarhouni, once he knew about the list, became terrified and desperately tried to scramble fuel and money to flee the capital.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But the legacy of this war goes deeper than just divisions between rival factions. It's fractured families as well.

Ahmed Tarhouni was a senior member of Gadhafi's revolutionary guard, based in the coastal city of Misrata. When the uprising happened he through his weight behind trying to crush the rebellion.

But members of Tarhouni's wife's family fought on the other side. Two of her brothers were killed in Misrata, and when the tables turned, few of her relatives were willing to help Ahmed Tarhouni, except for this one, who said he couldn't turn his back on Tarhouni's innocent wife and children.

Unidentified Man #2: Because his wife is crying, call me every day, every minute. That's why. Because of children.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The gruesome legacy of this war is just being uncovered. Mass graves from when fleeing Gadhafi soldiers killed trapped detainees are being found in various parts of the capital. And in the fighting, people have been killed and injured on both sides.

Rebel and loyalist propaganda touted that each side was fighting foreigners. The rebels were told they were battling African mercenaries. Loyalists, rebel-linked al-Qaida militants from the Arab world. But the fact is this war has mainly pitted Libyan against Libyan. And the anger now runs deep.

At the main Tripoli military hospital, injured Gadhafi loyalists are being treated under armed guard. NPR is not using their names for their own protection.

Unidentified Man #3: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This loyalist fighter is from Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte. He was wounded here in the capital in a battle over a southern neighborhood. He says they never watched TV or saw the news, so he really didn't know the rebels were winning the war until he wound up here, injured and in rebel hands.

Unidentified Man #3: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But he says he still supports Gadhafi. And there are many like him he says. He says as long as the ousted Libyan leader remains alive and at large, people will still fight for him He says at least during Gadhafi's era it was safe, there was stability. He's worried about what comes next with the rebels.

Unidentified Man #4: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Another loyalist fighter, who's 18 years old, is recovering from an injury to his leg and abdomen. He joined Gadhafi's army he says for the money. He comes from a poor family and needed to make a living.

He was shot though, he says, after he surrendered at a battle fight. Both men have been promised that they will be treated fairly. The rebel government has repeatedly called on people not to take the law into their own hands and avoid taking revenge on their fellow Libyans. But there are worries that it will be hard to forgive and forget when so much blood has been spilt.

Unidentified Man #5: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of the rebels who guards the loyalist fighters explains to a visiting reporter that the men in this ward are dangerous, which is why they need to be watched over with guns. They kill people, he says - fathers and mothers, our families.

As for Ahmed Tarhouni, he managed to escape Tripoli and remains free for now.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Tripoli. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.