October 3, 2011 / 5:30 PM / 8 years ago

Chilly welcome for freedom fighters in Gaddafi's town

SIRTE, Libya, Oct 3 (Reuters) - If the Libyan fighters who advanced deep into Sirte on Monday had hoped to be greeted as liberating heroes, they were disappointed. All the residents had fled, leaving behind prized mementoes of their kinsman Muammar Gaddafi.

Forces with Libya’s new rulers, the National Transitional Council, captured the Sirte district of Bouhadi, a stronghold of Gaddafi’s tribe where many residents reject the revolution that overthrew his 42-year-rule.

It was a first real test of the new government’s declared aim of building an inclusive new Libya that will peacefully reconcile Gaddafi’s supporters with his opponents.

On the evidence of Monday afternoon, reconciliation is a long way off. The residents of Bouhadi were nowhere to be seen, and some of the NTC fighters set about looting and trashing their empty homes.

The people here — many of them members of Gaddafi’s own Gaddadfa tribe — appeared to have left in a hurry. At one house visited by Reuters, glasses had been left with tea still in them.

At another, clothes were strewn on the floor next to a half-packed bag. It seemed whoever lived there had been desperately trying to pack some belongings, but ran out of time.

One homeowner had left behind his passport. Elsewhere, wedding photos had been abandoned.

Many of Gaddafi’s opponents believe Sirte residents lead privileged lifestyles, getting a fat cut of the country’s oil revenues because of their closeness to the Libyan leader.

There was little evidence of that. The abandoned homes in Bouhadi were modest one-storey houses, with two or three rooms and a salon with mats on the floor where the family would sit for meals in the traditional Libyan style.

GADDAFI ALLEGIANCES

There were though plenty of indications of their allegiances to Gaddafi — something that drew the anger of the NTC fighters.

The green flags of Gaddafi’s Libya flew from most houses, while almost everywhere else they have been replaced with the red, green and black flags of the rebellion.

In one house was a photograph of the owner together with Gaddafi. The glass over the photo had been smashed, and a fighter was pointing at it with his Kalashnikov rifle.

Another home appeared to belong to someone who held a senior position in Gaddafi’s military. It had large portraits of Gaddafi on the walls.

A torn military certificate thanked the householder for his services to the Al-Fatah Revolution, the 1969 coup that brought Gaddafi to power.

Smoke drifted through the rooms. NTC fighters nearby said the house belonged to someone who was particularly close to Gaddafi, so they had set it on fire.

The fighters walked between the deserted houses, shouting: “Libya is free! Libya is free!” They celebrated Bouhadi’s capture by firing rifles and anti-aircraft guns into the air.

Some helped themselves to belongings. NTC pickup trucks drove from the area loaded with carpets, clothes and furniture. One NTC vehicle had a table football game in the back. (Writing by Christian Lowe; editing by Andrew Roche)

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