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A witness report from rebel-held Zintan in Libya

Text by Marie VALLA

Latest update : 2011-03-08

French documentary maker Florent Marcie is in the south western Libyan town of Zintan, perched high in the mountains overlooking the Sahara desert. Marcie told France24 that confidence and morale with the rebels is high.

French documentary maker Florent Marcie crossed the Tunisian border (illegally) into south western Libya on February 24 at Nalut (border crossing, pictured above). He is now in the town of Zintan, some 160 kilometres south west of the capital Tripoli. Marcie is one of the few people on the ground who can report what is happening to the outside world.

FRANCE 24: What is the situation in this region of Libya?

Florent Marcie: Right now all the towns in this mountainous area are in rebel hands. The towns have come up with a common declaration of intent and have put themselves under the authority of the revolutionary committee in Benghazi. They are doing their utmost to coordinate their activities.

This area is mostly Berber (a tribe), and the various communities have not always seen eye to eye. However, they say they are all united in their opposition to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. Their morale is high despite the fact that they do not have huge resources – and these are running low. People here are concerned and afraid that the world has forgotten them.

FR 24: How important is this region for Gaddafi?

FM: This region around Zintan is strategically important. There are oil fields to the south, three major pipelines nearby going up to the Mediterranean and a large ammunition depot 25 to 30 kilometres east in the desert. And Zintan is halfway between Nalut, near the Tunisian border, and Gharyan (270 kilometres). The latter is a large garrison town that is held by pro-Gaddafi forces. Zintan is on a bend in the road, making it vulnerable to attack from two sides.

FR 24: What have you seen in Zintan itself?

FM: Zintan was the first town in the region to free itself from regime control. They are extremely proud of this. But there were no reporters here to let the world know. The people of this town feel forgotten – and they are waiting anxiously for what is going to come at them.

They have dug trenches around the town and only have a handful of rifles and automatic weapons. Both the water and electricity have been reconnected.

I have also seen Libyan soldiers who have been taken prisoner, as well as some “mercenaries” – but it is difficult to say exactly who these people are. They are either innocent Africans caught trying to get out of the country, or they are mercenaries who have dressed in civilian clothes to escape capture.

FR 24: How do you think this situation is going to evolve?

FM: Gaddafi’s problem is the low morale of his own troops and the risk that they will turn against him. It is a paradox for him that the more he launches attacks, and the further away from Tripoli that these attacks take place, the more his soldiers are going to want to defect.

I have the feeling that with an army whose morale is at rock bottom, which is bolstered by a few mercenaries, Gaddafi cannot last very long. The question is – how long?

Date created : 2011-03-08


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