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Eyewitness to Libya’s Turmoil: ‘We Need the World’s Help’

March 1, 2011 at 6:07 PM EDT
Libyan government forces battled unsuccessfully for six hours to reclaim Zawiyah, a key rebel-held city 30 miles from the capital of Tripoli. Margaret Warner talks with a resident about the battle and what people in Libya are saying about the international response to Moammar Gadhafi's refusal to resign.

JEFFREY BROWN: Forces loyal to Gadhafi tried overnight to retake a key city just 30 miles from Tripoli. Witnesses in Zawiyah said the battle lasted for six hours, but the rebels repulsed the attack.

A short time ago, Margaret Warner spoke with a resident in Zawiyah, whose name we will not reveal for security purposes.

MARGARET WARNER: Thanks for joining us, sir.

Tell us, what is the situation in Zawiyah right now?

MAN: The situation in Zawiyah, the boys are in control of all the city nine days ago, since nine days ago. And they took over the city and everything under control.

MARGARET WARNER: By the boys, do you mean the rebels?

MAN: No, we are not rebels. We are not rebels. We don’t want to be called rebels. We are revolutionary forces. We are the dignity revolution.

MARGARET WARNER: How hard is the government trying to retake your city?

MAN: The last Thursday, there were a big invasion, and 17 people were killed and more than 50 injured. That’s the major assault from the forces of the mercenaries and these forces of the boys of Gadhafi.

MARGARET WARNER: What happened last night? We heard they made another major assault.

MAN: Since that big assault, the government forces seized the city from three sides, from the east, the west, and the south.

And they’re making ambushes and little assaults. There is killing and injuries, but we are under siege now. We are under siege.

Last night, we were threatened that if we don’t give up, they will bombard us by air force. So, the reaction of the people, they come out of their homes, women and children and old people and everybody, and stand by — maybe 10,000, and they spent the night waiting for this bombardment.

So, maybe because they have agents among us, so they told them about this, and this bombardment didn’t happen last night.

MARGARET WARNER: Did the government’s forces manage to get into the town itself?

MAN: No, that’s impossible. No, that’s impossible. They can’t do that, because Zawiyah has three or four streets to get in. So, the boys have their forces in these main entries to the city.

MARGARET WARNER: How do the weapons your town fighters carry compare to the arms the government forces have?

MAN: Well, they have all kinds of weapons. They have artillery. They have tanks. They have everything.

But we have nothing. We are a peaceful people. We have only maybe guns to catch rabbits and birds, these — what do you call them?

MARGARET WARNER: Hunting rifles.

MAN: That’s all. That’s all.

And we have some weapons which we took from them, the boys managed to take from them. And it’s not very much. Actually, we depend on our strength. Our power is our confidence of ourselves and confidence of our beliefs.

And we want to be free. And the same time, I am calling on you and all the world. We are in a very dangerous situation in Zawiyah. We are sieged from all — from three sides. And maybe we will be invaded in any time. And it will be a massacre.

So, we want the United Nations to help us. We want the help from all the world, everything you can do for us, because it will be a massacre. We want the United Nations forces, the blue hats. We are peaceful people. We don’t do anything. We already said no. We don’t — enough. Enough is enough.

MARGARET WARNER: And how are you able to live in Zawiyah right now in terms of food, clean water, the basics of life?

MAN: We’re still managing. You can’t believe the confidence and the happiness and the patience. And everybody is hugging each other.

And the bread, they — between them and everybody who have money, they bring it. Everybody who have bread, they bring it. And we are OK until now. We have a shortage of medicine and shortages especially, especially of the baby milk.

But in terms of food, we’re still managing. The time is against us. They have everything. We have nothing. And we’re under siege. So, don’t listen to those people abroad who said we don’t want intervention, because they are sitting there and they’re having — drinking beer there. Yes, and they said we don’t want intervention.

MARGARET WARNER: Are you expecting another assault tomorrow?

MAN: In every hour, we are expecting an assault. And they’re doing — they’re trying every time to make ambushes, to try us, to try us. You understand?

But the boys have great confidence, as always they push them away, push them away. But they don’t make a major assault yet. I don’t know why they are waiting. Maybe they’re afraid. Maybe they’re — I don’t know what their tactic.

They will do this assault. They will do it. And it will be a massacre.

Raise your voice and ask — we ask all the humanity to protect us from this dangerous situation. But we are confident. We are strong. We want to die for our freedom, for our country, for the democracy, for a modern society, for everything we’re looking for. We are ready to die, and we are strong.

We are not afraid. But in the — in the same time, we want the help of the world.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, thank you so much. Thank you for joining us.

MAN: OK. Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Washington today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said a strong American response to the Libyan crisis is essential. She told a congressional hearing that the North African nation is at a critical juncture.

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: In the years ahead, Libya could become a peaceful democracy, or it could face protracted civil war, or it could descend into chaos. The stakes are high. And this is an unfolding example of using the combined assets of smart power — diplomacy, development and defense — to protect American security and interests and advance our values.

JEFFREY BROWN: Secretary Clinton also left open the possibility of a no-fly zone over Libya to ground Gadhafi’s warplanes.

At a separate hearing, the head of the U.S. Central Command, Marine General James Mattis, said enforcing it would be challenging.

GEN. JAMES MATTIS, U.S. Central Command: You would have to remove air defense capability in order to establish a no-fly zone, so it — just no illusions here, it would be a military operation. It wouldn’t simply be telling people not to fly airplanes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The idea of imposing curbs on Libyan airspace drew a sharply negative response today in Moscow. The Russian foreign minister said, any such action would be — quote — “a serious mistake,” unless the U.N. approves it first.