Gaddafi gives and he takes

Gaddafi once gave the remote village of Swahat all that it needed, but the villagers have now fled, fearing his wrath.

    Marez and other villagers fled Swahat to live in desert camps after Gaddafi forces attacked their homes [Ruth Sherlock]

    "We are your neighbours, but it is 20 years since your revolution and still we have no roads, no water, no electricity," Marez told Colonel Muammar Gaddafi when he visited her home in 1989.

    Then, the Libyan leader had listened, giving the remote village of Swahat in the eastern Libyan desert all that they needed.

    Twenty years on, 85-year-old Marez is again living in dire conditions. Sitting on the floor of the tent that has become her home, the elderly lady explains how her entire village has fled in fear of the Gaddafi regime.

    "We came to this tent because of him. Everything was normal, we were living our lives, but he came with the military and started killing. He came to the village and brought his dogs."

    In the dip of a sand dune, far away into the desert, the families of Swahat have built their own secret refugee camp. Children play among the 15 tents, as the women struggle to feed everyone on limited supplies.

    "Just potatoes today," says 24-year-old Hala, as she boils them on the small wood fire.

    For more than 40 days, as many as 250 people have lived in this desert camp. Days before a lady gave birth in the tent with only her grandmother to help.

    They live without electricity or running water. Fuel supplies are low. "My uncle carries the water to us in his small tank, but diesel is running low," says 67-year-old Sheikh Mohammed Arege.

    "We haven't received pension for three months," says Regavi, 70. The elderly men sit in the tents made of patchwork quilts, faded carpets and wooden poles. "What we need is weapons. If Gaddafi comes here we cannot defend ourselves."

    Less than 50 kilometres away, the war between troops loyal to Gaddafi and rebel forces rages on.

    Arege's three sons have gone to fight or support the rebel army. "One is a volunteer with the ambulances, one feeds the ammunition into machine guns, and another brings supplies."

    "I want to join the fighters, what is the point of living like this?" says 17-year-old Ahmed Ibadullah. "I would rather die fighting."

    The villagers are terrified of the wrath of Gaddafi's revenge should he return to the area. The bullet riddled door of the water pump house at the village tells of the loyalist's last visit. "They destroyed the water pump and took the pump wheel. We have no water supply," says Regavi.

    It is a war that threatens the villager's way of life. For centuries they have lived a nomadic lifestyle – tending to herds of camel and sheep. Now they cannot find vital fodder for the herds. The animals are forced to graze on scraps of dried twigs amidst the desert sands.

    With few supplies they have to kill and eat precious sheep for nutrition.

    Despite the hardship, the fear of returning to their village, which lies closer to the town of Ajdabiya, is too great. "We will not leave until Gaddafi goes," says Regavi.

    Marez's face is weathered with age and years of walking the blustering dunes. Tattooed patterns on her face distinguish her tribe according to ancient Libyan tradition. She sits wrapped in colourful cloths. Her headscarf just reveals her shocking red hair.

    But her expression is dark with worry for the future. "He gave these things to us," she says, thinking of her neatly built village homes. "But now Gaddafi has become crazy, his mind has changed, it is not as before."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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