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As Life Gets Back to Normal, Tripoli’s ‘Heart Beginning to Beat Again’

August 29, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
As Libyan rebels shift their hunt for Moammar Gadhafi toward his hometown of Sirte on Monday, the leader's wife, daughter and two sons fled to neighboring Algeria. Margaret Warner discusses the rebels' latest efforts with The Washington Post's Simon Denyer.
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MARGARET WARNER: For an update on the situation in Libya, I spoke earlier this evening to Simon Denyer of The Washington Post, who is in Tripoli.

Simon Denyer, thank you for joining us.  

Tell us first what it’s like in Tripoli today. What are you seeing? What are you hearing on the streets?

SIMON DENYER, The Washington Post: Well, life is returning to normal in Tripoli. Every day, it gets a little bit better. There are fewer checkpoints on the street today than there were. There are more shops open. We’re just coming to the end of Ramadan, so people were keen today to get out to buy presents for their children, buy clothes for their children.

So you actually saw queues outside some of the clothes shops here. Traffic is returning to the streets. It’s still not back to normal, but you’re seeing the heart beginning to beat again for Tripoli.

MARGARET WARNER: And do people have the basics, I mean, food, water, electricity?

SIMON DENYER: There’s not a lot of water, to be honest with you. There’s not a lot of water anywhere. There’s some drinking water, but very little water coming out of the taps anywhere in Tripoli.

There have been some deliveries. Communities are getting their own water and distributing it themselves. Electricity has been intermittent. Haven’t noticed any power cuts today, but it has been a problem. Otherwise, you know, generally, there are some shortages.

There have been shortages of baby milk. There are some shortages of drug in the hospitals. So the city is still struggling, but people are coping. Generally, neighborhoods are working together. Neighbors are helping each other out. You know, there’s a good spirit in the streets.

MARGARET WARNER: And how are the rebels behaving now that they’re in control? Amnesty International has accused them of torture and abuse of Gadhafi loyalists.

SIMON DENYER: Yes.

I mean, there are some question marks there about how they’re treating some of the Gadhafi troops that they’re capturing, particularly people they consider to be mercenaries. Basically, anyone with a black skin, they suspect of being a foreigner from an African country.

They may be from the south of Libya, but they tend to suspect them of not being so. And there are reports that they’re mistreating them. I have to say there’s nothing on the scale or remotely on the scale of what the Gadhafi forces seem to have done as they withdrew, widespread massacres of prisoners by Gadhafi forces, several instances of that.

So, yes, there are some question marks about the rebels, but it’s not on that scale.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, how much do you know and can tell us about how the rebels’ advance on Sirte is progressing?

SIMON DENYER: Well, you know, they’re closing in. They’re steadily closing in. There’s no doubt about that.

But they haven’t made the final thrust. There are still — their best fighters actually are the fighters hardened for the battle for Misrata. And many of those fighters are still here in Tripoli. They have been securing Tripoli. And I think they’re having a little bit of a break.

When they go towards Sirte, I think you’re going to see them join in that final assault on Sirte. There is talk about negotiations going on. We haven’t seen any — for a peaceful surrender of Sirte. We haven’t seen any progress in those negotiations or haven’t heard about any progress in those negotiations. And if they fail, I think, yes, you will see in the next few days sort of a concerted — a stepping up of the pressure on Sirte and possibly a final assault.

MARGARET WARNER: And is the prospect of a negotiated settlement with Gadhafi, under which, for instance, he could leave the country. Is that still in the cards at all?

SIMON DENYER: No, that’s completely off the table. The new government here has made that very clear.

They’re hunting Gadhafi as a criminal. They want to bring him to justice. They want to bring him to justice in Libya, as it happens. But, yes, negotiations — if they ever were interested in negotiations, they’re certainly not interested in them now. They think they have more or less won. And they want to see Gadhafi captured or killed.

That is what most Libyans say, that they won’t feel completely secure until Gadhafi is captured. And, you know, they don’t necessarily want him to be lynched. They want him to be on put trial. They want him to pay for what they consider to be his crimes.

MARGARET WARNER: And finally, briefly, does anyone have any idea of where he is right now?

SIMON DENYER: The honest answer is not really. I mean, we do have these reports confirmed by the Algerian government that members of his family have fled to Algeria. It’s entirely possible that he may have joined them, but the Algerians aren’t admitting that there. And he doesn’t want to admit that yet.

There are reports he could be in Bani Walid, which is a town south of Misrata, which is a town where he does have, tribally, a lot of support. So that’s a possibility. There are other towns in the south that we hear about from time to time. There’s potential bolt-holes for Gadhafi.

I suspect he’s not in Sirte because Sirte has been — you know, has been more or less surrounded. So I suspect, if he’s one step ahead, he’s probably somewhere else, but that’s pretty much all we know.

MARGARET WARNER: All right.

Well, Simon Denyer of The Washington Post, thanks so much.

SIMON DENYER: Thank you.