News / Middle East

Libyan Opposition Leader: Military Siding with People

Residents stand on a tank inside a security forces compound in Benghazi, Libya, February 21, 2011
Residents stand on a tank inside a security forces compound in Benghazi, Libya, February 21, 2011

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Cecily Hilleary

A former Libyan army officer and head of a leading opposition group says he knows of growing defections among Libya’s military not just by individuals, but in some cases, entire units. Ibrahim Abdulaziz Sahad is the Secretary-General of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, or NFSL, which was organized in in October 1981 by a group of former military officers, diplomats and businessmen with one goal - to end the regime of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi. He spoke to VOA’s Cecily Hilleary from his base in the United States.

Cecily: Mr. Sahad. You are a former member of the Libyan army and the Air Force. We are hearing reports of real atrocity committed by the Libyan army against protesters. And we are also hearing reports of members of military defecting. What is going on?

Sahad:  The scenario started.  In Benghazi, the demonstrators could not be in a peaceful situation until a unit from the army moved and took over the barracks which contains another battalion of Gaddafi security.  That battalion used to shoot against the demonstrators, used to send mercenaries, used to do all kinds of harm [against] the demonstrators - even the inhabitants of Benghazi. 

But when that army unit moved and took over that barracks, Benghazi started to breathe.  It is also, in many other places, military units joining the people,  like in  Misrata,  the Air Force Academy joined the people.  Also some units in Misrata, some units in Az-Zawiyah.

Ibrahim Sahad
Ibrahim Sahad

Now one thing I would like to say here, in Gadhafi’s 40-year rule, he emptied the army of it strength, so that you will see only  the units that can move, which have weapons, which have  ammunition, can do something to help.   Others will be hesitant.   But I am getting information that many officers are joining the demonstrators, refusing the orders of Gadhafi to shoot at the people.  Two pilots landed yesterday in Malta because they refused to take the orders and raid the cities of Benghazi and Tripoli.  They left Libya, they went to Malta, they are asking for political asylum now.

Hilleary:  Two pilots is a long way from an entire military.  Do you believe there’s a chance of the military completely siding against Gadhafi?

Sahad:  I am sure the other pilots refused and were under arrest.  Other pilots went and they threw all what they had - bombs - they threw them in the desert and they came back.  We have these reports from inside, that these two pilots were asked to go and bomb Benghazi.  They left until they found themselves away from the radar and away from the air defense system, and then they changed the course to Malta.     

It’s not easy in Libya.  Forty years of tyranny, of oppression, of fear - I mean,   a person will feel frightened, even in his home.  This is the situation which Gadhafi brought on this country, and I am telling you, what you are seeing, those people who go into the streets are very, very brave. They know what’s waiting for them.  

Hilleary:  What would you like to see the U.N. Security Council do?

Sahad:  The Security Council should take all measures to protect the civilians by all means.  We are seeing a government using all kinds of weapons against its own people, using mercenaries against its own people.

Gadhafi himself should be brought to trial.  He is now committing crimes against humanity, crimes of war, and that should be brought to justice.

Third, in Libya there are very urgent needs for medical supplies, medicines, doctors - for even hospitals.  We are getting very, very alarming reports from the hospitals in Benghazi, in Tripoli, in almost every place in Libya. They are in need of basic first aid.  Also there is a shortage in food.  It has started to run down.

I would like to see the international community start shipping aid to Libya. It can use the Egyptian border.  It can use the Tunisian border. They can use the harbors of Libya on the Mediterranean. Every hour delay, more souls will be lost, more blood will be shed, and more massacre will be taking place in Libya.

Hilleary:  What would you like to see from the United States?

Sahad:  Ma’am, I would like to express and convey to American people the disappointment, the bitter disappointment of the Libyan people from the stand [sic] of the United States of America, from the stand of this Administration. The stand of this Administration is very devastating to the Libyan people, even though we expected that the United States would stand for its values in support of democracy, freedom, human rights. But what we’ve seen from the Administration is nothing.    

Even the Security Council meeting could have [taken place] two, three days ago. The delay here, I could not understand.  It does not add up.   

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