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Rebels resent Sirte residents, but vow not to take revenge

Rebels and villagers near Sirte talk about their resentment of residents in Muammar Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte, who benefited from better services while areas to the east languished.

A woman holds a wanted poster of Muammar Qaddafi during a demonstration at Martyrs Square in Tripoli.

Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

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On the first Friday since Libya’s revolutionaries freed this small village from the control of forces loyal to former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, the mosque is full with village men and rebel fighters who have come from nearby checkpoints.

Over a tinny loudspeaker, the village imam asks God to protect the fighters, and adds a request: “May God defeat Qaddafi and show him what he’s done to us,” he says.

After the sermon is over, men spilling out of the mosque into a dusty square talk about just what it is that Libya’s leader of 42 years did to their village. His policy of favoring certain tribes and areas while neglecting others – like theirs – has left a deep-seated resentment, not only of Qaddafi, but also of those who benefited from him.

“For years here, there was no electricity, no doctors, no water, no gas,” says Sherif Yousif, dressed in a white robe with a white scarf over his head. By contrast, in Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte about 80 miles to the west, things are different.

“There is no comparison” between Sirte, where Qaddafi bestowed favor, and Nawfaliyah, says Mr. Yousif.

That is partially his explanation for why the people of Sirte have not yet laid down their arms, even while it is clear that Qaddafi’s rule is over – those who benefited from him don’t want to lose their privileges. Yet another likely reason for the delay is that residents are afraid of retribution from those who were not showered with favor during Qaddafi’s rule.

Negotiations for Sirte's surrender

If the city of Sirte is to negotiate its surrender, as the transitional leaders hope, the tribes once favored by Qaddafi will not only have to give up their privilege, but will also have to be convinced that they won’t be slaughtered when they do.


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