Don't 'call us rebels'

The military commanders had universally decided that the press did more harm than good after one of our colleagues gave away rebel positions in his report a couple of weeks earlier.

    It was getting late for a foray to the front. There was perhaps an hour's light left in the sinking sun. Not much time to negotiate our way up there and back before dark.

    But we had run into the same brick wall that was stopping all the media in Misurata from reporting at the frontline.

    The military commanders had universally decided that the press did more harm than good after one of our colleagues gave away rebel positions in his report a couple of weeks earlier.

    As we hung out at the makeshift hospital just back from the key checkpoint, one of the local tradesmen, who had supported the rebels with supplies since the beginning, lodged a complaint.

    "Why do you call them rebels? They are not fighting men. They are civilians forced to pick up weapons." Mohammed was indignant.

    "You need to tell the world that these men are normal people. Gaddafi has forced them to take up arms. It's a crime."

    He wasn't an old man but the crags and wrinkles on his kind face spelt out years of hard work and worry. It was only when he began to recite Kenny Rogers songs that some of those years fell away.

    We reached the frontline as dusk fell, the silhouettes of the 'rebels' crouched behind their sand berms just about visible in the pinkish glow, their cigarettes glowing red in the darkness.

    The thuds and clatter of machine guns and artillery crackled along the line.

    I hastily interviewed the nearest commander while we could still see to film. He explained how the fighting had gone that day, sketching out a map of their positions in the dirt, sounding every inch an experienced battlefield expert. After our interview I asked what he did for a living before the uprising.

    "I was an engineer at the steelworks," he replied with a broad smile. Every rebel fighter I've talked to in Libya has said they plan to go back to their old jobs after the war.

    But the longer this conflict takes to reach a conclusion the further that hope for a return to normal life is beginning to feel for this civilian army.


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