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Rebels Tasked With Ensuring Libyans Security


And that reality could threaten Libya's stability, as NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from the rebel capital of Benghazi.


SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: At a checkpoint on the western edge of this city, Ibrahim Najam holds his Kalashnikov as he and several friends board their ride to the front.

IBRAHIM NAJAM: (Foreign language spoken)

SARHADDI NELSON: His Kalashnikov never leaves his side. But Najam says he'll have no problem giving it up if asked.

NAJAM: (Foreign language spoken)

SARHADDI NELSON: He explains that guns are for military men and not for civilians like him. Fellow fighter Adel Lafifi agrees. He's a construction consultant who has been assigned an anti-aircraft gun.

ADEL LAFIFI: (Foreign language spoken)

SARHADDI NELSON: The 35-year-old says stability in the new Libya will depend on people giving up their arms. He says he's prepared to hand over his heavy weapon as soon as Gadhafi is caught. That attitude is what rebel leaders are hoping for as they figure out how best to reclaim the guns and heavy weapons now on Libya's streets. Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who heads the rebel transitional council, made this appeal at a recent news conference.

MUSTAFA ABDEL JALIL: (Foreign language spoken)

SARHADDI NELSON: Shamsiddin Ben-Ali is the council's chief spokesman.

SHAMSIDDIN BEN: What would that person want to do with an automatic weapon such as a Kalashnikov? Other than have possible other intentions or - so most people will be advised to turn it in.

SARHADDI NELSON: Ben-Ali estimates the reclamation could take a year. He says the council will use public service announcements and cash, if necessary, to get people to cooperate. But Ben-Ali predicts there will likely be some troublemakers who will hang onto the guns they have.

BEN: They will have a grace period to turn their weapons in. After that, anybody found with a heavy weapon will face the full force of law.

SARHADDI NELSON: Bani adds even he has never carried a weapon during his 30-year military career. He says Gadhafi wouldn't allow it.

AHMED BANI: Before it was forbidden to have a gun. Forbidden, why? Not 'cause Moammar Gadhafi, he likes the people, he likes to be safe. No, no. Because he doesn't want anybody to have the gun because he's afraid of that gun. Maybe they will shoot him or something like that.

SARHADDI NELSON: He adds that in the future, the new government might allow Libyans to own handguns if they register them. But other than that, weapons will only be given to policemen and soldiers answering to the new Libyan government, Bani says. For now, Libyans openly carry their guns, even in cities like Benghazi that are firmly in rebel hands.


SARHADDI NELSON: Ahmed Abdel Wahab works at a cafe in downtown Benghazi.

AHMED ABDEL WAHAB: (Foreign language spoken)

SARHADDI NELSON: Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Benghazi

INSKEEP: Libya's new government is still chasing down members of the old regime. Rebels claim they have captured Moammar Gadhafi's foreign minister, though they have not offered details of that capture. The man the rebels want most, of course, is Moammar Gadhafi himself. His son, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, has made a statement about that on a Syrian television channel and some other outlets. He's said, quote, "Our leadership is fine; we're drinking tea and coffee." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.