Wounded Gaddafi soldier says morale of troops is low

MISRATA, Libya Fri Jul 22, 2011 4:26pm EDT

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MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) - Morale is low among troops fighting for Muammar Gaddafi on the front west of Misrata and many are reluctant to fight back against rebel attacks, a recently-wounded loyalist soldier told Reuters on Friday.

"Most of them are exhausted, especially as we approach the month of Ramadan," said the soldier, who spoke on condition his name and his hometown not be mentioned for fear of reprisals against his family. "They don't want to fight during Ramadan."

"They want everything to settle and we're all Libyan brothers," he added. "We don't want to harm each other."

Muslims observe the month of Ramadan by fasting during daylight hours and praying. It is traditionally a time families spend together. This year's Ramadan promises to be grueling for Muslims, starting during the hot and dry month of August.

The soldier gave the interview from his bed at Misrata's Al Hikma hospital with no one in the room except Reuters staff, offering a rare insight into the morale in Gaddafi's camp.

The soldier said he was shot in the left thigh two or three days ago by rebel fighters on the front line that has been pushed amid heavy fighting and bombardment to around 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Misrata.

That puts the front around 6 kilometers east of Zlitan, the largest city remaining between the rebels and the capital Tripoli 160 km away.

Rebel fighters in Misrata frequently say many of the young soldiers they come up against in combat seem reluctant to fight, an impression the young soldier confirmed.

"There is no organization or planning," he said in a quiet voice. "Most times we withdraw."

TREATING BOTH SIDES

When asked why he had joined the fight against the rebels, the government soldier said he had been lied to at the military college he was attending when the uprising began.

"They didn't allow us to watch media channels," he said. "We were only allowed to watch Libyan (state) television."

"I was told (the rebels) were criminal gangs who mutilated bodies."

The soldier said he had expected to be treated badly when he was wounded and captured.

"I was treated with respect," he said. "I did not expect to be treated this well."

On a visit to the International Medical Corps field hospital behind the western front line on Wednesday, a Reuters team saw three wounded Gaddafi loyalists being treated as well as injured rebel fighters.

The hospital staff appeared to treat the patients according to the seriousness of their injury, not which side they were fighting on.

"We have treated those who were with us and those who were against us," said Faisal Mahmoud, a rebel fighter being treated at the hospital for a head injury and wounds to both arms sustained in a mortar attack this week.

The wounded Gaddafi loyalist said he was operated on before other rebel fighters injured the same day.

Both sides in the war that began with street protests across Libya for greater freedom back in February have accused the other of hiring mercenaries to fight. Rebels commonly refer to fighters from Chad or Algeria among Gaddafi's troops.

But the young soldier said "apart from a few people with strange dialects," he had not seen any sign of mercenaries.

Rebel commanders have also said recently they have encountered land mines ahead of Gaddafi loyalist positions, but the soldier said he was not aware of a major mining operation.

Asked what would happen to him when his wound was healed, the young man said he had been told he would be free to go.

"They told me that when things calm down 'we will send you back to your family and we will treat you well,'" he said.

(Additional reporting by Mussab Al-Khairallah; Editing by Lin Noueihed and Sophie Hares)

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