October 23, 2011 / 8:59 AM / 6 years ago

Mortars, tanks, quiet now at Libya's "war museum"

MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) - Gazing out over an ad hoc collection of tanks, mortars and Molotov cocktails seized in fierce fighting against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces, Mokhtar Ahmed was ecstatic.

“The rebels made the Libyan people’s dreams a reality,” he said, reviewing the impromptu war museum that has sprung up on Misrata’s bomb-blasted Tripoli Street.

Its exhibits were plucked from the battlefields where militias loyal to Gaddafi, who was captured and killed last week, were defeated.

A sign placed on a tank blasted by a NATO warplane reads “Abu Shafshufa’s gallery,” a derisive nickname for Gaddafi, mocking his unruly, curly hair.

It stands beside Grad missile launchers, mortars, and a metal eagle with a 12-foot (4-m) wingspan, riddled with bullets, clutching a life-sized mannequin of Gaddafi in its talons.

The metal eagle was seized from the roof of Gaddafi’s home in Tripoli. The mannequin was added later.

Other exhibits include a giant gold fist grasping a smashed jet plane, a burned-out armored personnel carrier and a bank of broken radios taken from militias routed in street battles across Libya.

But as the country’s transitional government grapples to put together a peaceful, democratic future following Gaddafi’s death at the hands of rebels in his hometown of Sirte on Thursday, the exhibits evoked anxious reflection from some viewers.

“There’s a lot of weapons. They must be taken back,” Hassan Mustafa Sadawi said. He was referring to the arsenal still in the hands of rebel forces in a country riven by tribal divisions.

“It’s impossible to have stability (in Libya). We’ll take revenge on each other from time to time, maybe,” he added.

Families, some with young children, picked through the exhibits, which included a crate of Molotov cocktails in Pepsi Cola bottles, rockets with windmill-like tail fins that had failed to detonate, jagged shrapnel fragments, and some molten metal congealed after battle.

“It shows us that weapons lead to destruction and death,” Abdul Hakim Habbas said.

The Kalashnikov-toting rebel, with six of his children in tow, was out to see the weapons and view Gaddafi’s corpse, lying on display in a cold store in the city.

“Maybe we will take lessons from this, and our children too,” Habbas added.

But for Muftah Lamlum, recently returned from 38 years of political exile in London, all he saw was waste.

“It reminds me that I have lost the best years of my life ... (and) the ruin of the country that could have been the most prosperous in the Middle East,” he said ruefully.

Some rebels fired a burst of celebratory Kalashnikov rifle fire into the air to accompany rousing songs urging on the uprising.

“I want to see a Western-style democracy,” Lamlum said. “But my greatest fear is ignorance...42 years of Gaddafi was a very long time.”

Additional reporting by Taha Zaghoun; Editing by Michael Roddy

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