Libyan highlanders adapt to changing war scenario | World | Breaking news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 04.07.2011

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Libyan highlanders adapt to changing war scenario

The uprising against Gadhafi's regime has led to dramatic changes in the daily lives of many Libyans. Those living in the mountains are also having to adapt quickly and make the best use of their limited resources.


Nalut is perched atop the strategically important Jebel Nafusa plateau

Libyan rebels hold a bleak mountain plateau, stretching more than 200 km (124 miles) across the West of the country. It's a region home to 150,000 people, many of whom are from the Berber minority, historically neglected by Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

The Jebel Nafusa mountain range is of strategic importance for the Libyan rebels on the Western front as it provides access to supply routes in the south, across Tunisia's Dehiba border crossing. The region's geology and its proximity to the neighboring country have helped the rebels resist here since they took control of the disputed border post in April.

"Everything is about the border here, if we lose it we're all done as we get every single supply from Tunisia - food, petrol, even water," Muhamed, a Libyan rebel, told Deutsche Welle at the Dehiba border post.

After crossing the semi-ghost Libyan town of Wazzin, the straight road across the mountain plateau leads to Nalut - Jebel Nafusa's biggest Berber settlement, 60 km from the border. Since the beginning of the anti-Gadhafi uprising, Nalut's population has dropped from 30.000 to around 8000, most of whom are men of fighting age. Nonetheless, locals claim that NATO's recent air attacks on Ain Ghezaia - a Pro Gadhafi position just below Nalut - have helped to reduce the volleys of rockets coming from the valley.

"Basically we live on rice, pasta an onions here. We barely remember the taste of lamb and chicken because we've lost our sheep and fowl. Besides, we have no electricity so we cannot keep the food in good conditions," Suleyman Omar, a local resident, told Deutsche Welle.


Omar, a history teacher, cooks for 400 people everyday

Like almost everybody else in Jebel Nafusa, Omar's life has gone through dramatic changes since the Libyan uprising against Gadhafi's regime began on February 17. The 40-year-old history teacher cooks for over 400 people everyday, a figure that can easily double when people flee the neighbouring villages that come under attack.

Rockets and razors

"Some of those who left for Tunisia took their cattle in trucks. I decided to stay so I lost all my animals. Some were killed by the soldiers and some others simply starved to death," Ramadan, a farmer before the conflict began, told Deutsche Welle. "My farm was down the valley, near the water sources. But I was forced to run uphill when Gadhafi's troops took over Kut" - a small village from where GRAD rockets are fired into Nalut almost daily.

But Ramadan decided to help. Today he struggles to organize food supplies for the fighters and he's also ready to cut their hair and beards if they want.

"Many here say they are growing a beard until we oust Gadhafi from power but others prefer to get it cut, that's why I always take my razor with me. The main problem is that batteries don't last long enough and I have to come back every now and then to recharge them," said Ramadan.


Loari would be an architect right now had it not been for the war

Loari, who is in his early 20's, would have already graduated as an architect from Cairo University, had it not been for the war.

"I'm originally from Benghazi and I was in Cairo when Mubarak was overthrown. When everything started here I ran back home and joined the Tripoli Brigade - an anti Gadhafi army formed by both local and diaspora Libyans - and I arrived in Nalut through Tunisia a few days ago," he told Deutsche Welle. "I'll have enough time to complete my studies when everything is over," the young volunteer added.

Show of defiance

Kemal is also dressed in camouflage gear but his weapon of choice is a pencil to draw cartoons of the man who has stuck to power in Libya for the last 42 years.

"I go to the hospital every morning to offer them my help. In the afternoons I sit down and draw these. We post them on Facebook and Twitter and also publish them afterwards in the local newspaper The Echo of the Mountains," the former accountant told Deutsche Welle. He's convinced that his effort "helps to boost the people's morale."

Some of the rockets launched from the valley have also torn into Nalut's ancient citadelle. If the war does not eventually level it to the ground, this ancient site recognized by UNESCO is a must-see for tourists, who will hopefully return to Libya some day.

Seventy-two year-old Battar's shop could well boast Nalut's best views to this archeological jewel and the valley below. He's one of the very few who has not been forced to change jobs due to the war.

"Most of the shop tenders have left for Tunisia with their families, even mine did. I'm too old to fight on the front but, in fact, I'm already doing so by holding this position. I won't move," said the stubborn Berber, who was already running his shop "when Gadhafi was just a young and ambitious military officer."

Author: Karlos Zurutuza, Nalut
Editor: Rob Mudge

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