Many civilians have fled the fighting in the besieged Libyan city of Sirte in recent days and have ended up in a nearby village, which has one distinction: It’s where deposed Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was born. But Sirte residents are not the only ones finding shelter there.
Before rebel forces marched into Tripoli, the Libyan diplomat, who doesn’t want his name used for fear of reprisals, had a nice life: a villa in Tripoli, another house in Sirte, very powerful friends and family. After the rebel takeover, residents in his Tripoli neighborhood targeted him because he is actually Gadhafi’s cousin.
“They destroyed my house, they took all my things, they threw me out on the street with nothing, all I have is the clothes on my back,” he says in Arabic. “No documents, no money, nothing.”
So he and his family went to Sirte, Gadhafi’s stronghold. But fighting came there, too, following them like a curse.
The diplomat’s wife says a rocket hit their house killing one of their daughters only a few days ago. She sobs and asks where God’s mercy is now.
“For 40 years, we’ve had peace here and now they want freedom?” she says. “Is this their freedom?”
In their latest move, the family ended up in the village of Abu Hadi, Gadhafi’s birthplace. Under his rule, it became a garrison town, housing members of his Republican Guard and military officers. Most of those people fled, leaving vacant homes.
In a stunning fall from grace, this is now where the diplomat and his family find themselves, squatting in someone else’s home, eking out an existence.
“I think my future black,” he says in English.
‘No One Wants To Help Us’
There are winners and losers in every war. Abu Hadi has become a refuge for those who can’t or don’t want to be a part of the “new” Libya. Some of these people may have blood on their hands. Others may not. But what happens to them will help determine whether or not the new Libyan government lives up to its democratic aspirations. For now though Abu Hadi has become a symbol of the worst excesses of the conflict here.
There are many burned houses in Abu Hadi. Anti-Gadhafi fighters swept through the village 10 days ago and torched and looted at will. Residents say the rebel fighters are out for revenge.
Resident Mohammed, who was a government worker in Sirte, says there is theft and killing everywhere. He says life in Abu Hadi is unsustainable, and looks unlikely to improve. But there is no where else to go.
“We have no electricity, no water, no hospitals no schools,” he says in Arabic. “If someone gets hurts, we have nowhere to take them. It takes hours to get to the nearest store and back. And we have no gas.
“There are a lot of checkpoints and we get harassed. No one wants to help us.”
Most of the people here are in a similar position. Chased out by fighting or by vengeance, they have all converged on Abu Hadi. With the feral desperation of a population that has so little, fights are breaking out over who gets allocated what.
This afternoon, a father and his children returned to what they said is their home. But another family was already living there.
“Look these are my keys,” the returning man shouts. “This is my home.”
“No. It isn’t,” replies the other. “I live here now.”
The squatter says his house was damaged beyond repair and so he moved here.
“I won’t leave,” he says.
An enormous villa on the edge of Abu Hadi stands incongruously vacant. The anti-Gadhafi fighters have warned that anyone who moves back there will be killed.
The house was owned by a member of Gadhafi’s elite Revolutionary Guards. If this mansion is anything to go by, he did well working for the former Libyan leader.
The man’s son Mohammed Dau says the rebels came and looted the property and made his father flee in fear of his life. He says even if his father did all the things he is accused of – killing people and making money from Gadhafi – it doesn’t justify what is happening.
“There is law in this country and it should take its course,” he says.
He knows that isn’t true though. Like the former leader he served, his father is on the run; Dau doesn’t know if he’ll see him again.