Wednesday 22 November 2017

Put away the guns all we want is peace, says schoolgirl in leader's town

Donald Macintyre in Sirte, Libya

LIBYAN schoolgirl Ghada Imread (16) is still in shock. Having spent five years in Britain where her father Othman was doing a PhD in engineering, she now finds herself in the middle of the next battleground between pro- and anti-Gaddafi forces.

"I didn't get used to living here yet," she explains, with just a hint of a Geordie accent.

Ghada was one of those who came to Sirte's Al Mnara girls' school yesterday, unlike a sizeable minority who didn't, frightened, she says, by the coalition bombing strikes, of which perhaps a dozen could be heard throughout the city overnight.

Did she agree with any of the professed aims -- including a democratic Libya -- of the rebel forces now advancing on her hometown?

"Some," she said, hesitantly. "People have different ideas and people should be able to listen to them. But they shouldn't use guns. We want peace."

Peace does not seem to be Sirte's immediate destiny. Yesterday afternoon reinforcements of more than 15 pick-up trucks carrying troops, machine guns and mobile anti-aircraft batteries could be seen arriving, along with a military jeep and a coach filled with soldiers.

They were travelling on the road from the west towards the Mediterranean port town, which Gaddafi has tried, among other things, to turn into a showpiece international conference venue.

As we arrived on Sunday evening with government minders, the main mood expressed inside Gaddafi's home town was one of defiance, laced with denial that the rebels could ever take Sirte as they had retaken Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad.

The stated government purpose of our trip, to join a regime-backed tribal "peace drive" eastwards from Sirte, was aborted before we even arrived, the motorised march turned back by the advancing rebels.

At the jetty of the small fishing port, a small crater and the presence of missile fragments testified to what may have been a miss-hit by coalition aircraft and the most plausible case yet of civilian deaths from eight nights of air strikes -- that of three young men at around 1am on Sunday. The immediate family of one of the victims were said to be too angry with the media coverage of the uprising to speak to reporters.

Whether from bravado, the presence of government minders or sheer idolisation of the town's most famous son, the promise to defend Libya was repeated widely yesterday.

"I want to tell the Americans and British that Allah is stronger than your planes," said one resident, Fawzi Imish (38). (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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