Fleeing Misrata by boat, Libyans tell horror stories

Reuters , Tuesday 19 Apr 2011

Libyans testify to the atrocities perpetuated by troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi against civilians in Misrata

Mansur Mohammed Doghman, 43, a Libyan ambulance driver wounded in Misrata, arrives in the port of Benghazi onboard the Greek ferry "Ionian Spirit," Monday, (Reuters).

Libyans wounded in the violent chaos gripping the city of Misrata described on Monday how the indiscriminate shelling by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi had made life intolerable there.

Just before they disembarked from a ferry that took them on a 17-hour journey from Misrata, Libyans in bandages predicted the country's third-largest city would be completely annihilated if Western powers did not step in to end Gaddafi's 41-year rule.

One part of the ship looked like a hospital ward as doctors in the western rebel stronghold of Benghazi in the east climbed aboard and made initial assessments of the wounded.

Looking dazed, people sat in chairs in bandages as a rebel carried around part of the artillery shell that killed his two friends.

"I had just left our house when this shell hit the building. I watched two friends die. Gaddafi is just firing everywhere," said the rebel, Alaa al Atrach, who just turned 20 and plans to return to Misrata soon to fight despite tough odds.

The tragedy made him more determined than ever to see Gaddafi go, he said.

"We have very few weapons but that's fine. Sometimes I just fill a bottle with gasoline and light it and throw it across the front at Gaddafi's men," said Atrach, wearing a baseball cap.

But the bloodshed looked set to leave others traumatised for some time.

The dark green shell in his hand, with a wire sticking out of it, was the kind that may have sprayed shrapnel into the face of Muhammed Muftah, a nine-year-old boy who sat quietly gesturing with his hand to let his father know he was thirsty because talking is too painful.

"He was just playing in our courtyard. He is just a child," said the boy's father. His neighbour, sitting behind him, stood up and kissed the boy on the head to comfort him, wincing in pain because he too was wounded by what he said was a Gaddafi sniper's bullet to the leg.

Libya's government denies allegations that it is violating the human rights of residents in Misrata and says it is fighting al Qaeda militants, not people demanding greater freedoms.

About 20 Libyans were on the ferry, which carried over 900 Ghanian migrants who were living in Libya, a north African oil producer witnessing the most violent of revolutions sweeping the Arab world.

Passengers on the Greek ferry, the Ionian Spirit, chartered by the International Organisazation for Migration, said the bottom line in Misrata, under a seven-week siege, is nobody is safe and there are no signs Gaddafi's forces will let up.

Even praying for a way out of the danger can be risky.

"The shells can land anywhere," said Muhammad Gadib, a porcelain trader with a cast on his arm. "We were at a mosque asking for God's help, to be saved. As soon as we stepped outside the shrapnel hit us."

Food shortages are not a big problem, people said. But venturing out to get it is risky. "The snipers can get you," said Gadib.

For an Egyptian guest worker in Misrata, the possibility of escaping its bloodshed brought relief at first, and then more trauma. Somehow during the rush he was separated from his four children ranging in age from seven months to seven years and they ended up on another ferry.

The man walked around the Ionian Spirit weeping and yelling.

"Misrata is shelling. Misrata is shooting. Everything you can imagine happens in Misrata," he said. "Now after we left I have no idea where my children are."

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