Framework

Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

A caricature of Moammar Kadafi peers from a wall in Benghazi, where many appeared oblivious to the threat of government forces bearing east, having been reassured by the opposition council that everything is OK.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A rebel volunteer keeps watch over a large crowd gathered at the Benghjazi courthouse as pro-Kadafi forces reached within 100 miles. Many residents had no idea that rebels had been driven from the city of Port Brega.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Men pray outside the courthouse, where the opposition council is based.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Col. Abdul Fatah Younis, who quit his post as interior minister in Kadafi's regime to join the rebels, is head of the rebels' ragtag army. In a news conference, he said the rebels were luring the army on to a more level battlefield.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Youths wave revolutionary flags, unaware that Kadafi's forces had inflicted defeat in Port Brega.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Rebel fighters manning a checkpoint east of Ajdabiya stop and question African laborers trying to flee the fighting.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A family fleeing the fighting near Ajdabiya pauses on the road to Benghazi.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

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Rebels in Libya no longer welcome journalists as tide turns against them

By Luis Sinco, Los Angeles Times

I literally shot from the hip at the front lines Sunday. I had no other choice and did not raise the camera to my eye as retreating rebels abruptly turned their wrath on members of the Western media covering the nearly month-long Libyan uprising.

Amid the chaos and panic at the gates of Ajdabiya, rebel fighters immediately singled me out — telling me in no uncertain terms that I should leave.

An irate middle-aged man pushed me back, yelling at me in Arabic while gesturing menacingly with a Kalashnikov held close tightly to his chest. According to my interpreter, he laid the blame for a quick succession of rebel battlefield defeats on photographers and reporters, who had compromised their positions and revealed their lack of weaponry with pictures and words.

His red and bleary eyes bulging, he looked as if he hadn’t slept in days. He wore a kaffiyeh scarf tightly wrapped around his head, and his tone was all business. I backed off and shot surreptitiously with a camera hanging from my neck.

I waited a few minutes and again tried to get better access. Again I was told no. As I walked away, a man shouted from the crowd: “Go home!  You are no longer needed here!”

It was a complete about-turn  after three weeks of being warmly welcomed as a friend and ally in the fight against Moammar Kadafi. Deep down, I knew the honeymoon wouldn’t last. It was just too good to be true. In the rebels’ opinion, their recent losses had nothing to do with poor training, a lack of strategy, weak leadership and overall incompetence. People often blame the messenger for bad news.

On the road back to Benghazi, I saw two carloads of Africans prostrate on the ground. One rebel waved a pistol over the terrified men’s heads and questioned them in Arabic. I jumped out of the car to take pictures but three men immediately ran in my direction, raised their weapons and told me to get lost. It’s just too hard to win an argument against loaded guns.

Back in Benghazi, dusk settled as I arrived at the courthouse square to gauge the public mood and get some pictures. I met a man I had befriended over the last two weeks, and he was stunned to hear that Kadafi’s forces were bearing down. All this time, the revolutionary government has been sticking to their delusional message that everything is OK — and the people buy it completely. In an environment like this, it’s almost impossible to work.

I returned to my hotel and caught the tail end of a news conference with the head of rebel military forces, Gen. Abdul Fatah Younis, who used to be the interior minister in Kadafi’s regime. Recent battlefield setbacks did not force a retreat or constitute defeat, he said. Rather, they are part of a brilliant strategy to lure loyalist forces into a trap. Yes, maybe. But that’s just not the way it looks.

Times reporters David Zucchino, Jeffrey Fleishman and I plan to stay in Benghazi one more day. And if Kadafi continues his unimpeded march, we will be quickly pulling out.

See more photo galleries of the conflict in Libya.

5 Comments

  1. March 14, 2011, 12:16 am

    Watch yourself out there and get home safe! There will always be a next one (sadly).

    By: alex
  2. March 15, 2011, 2:36 pm

    i'm saddened to hear of your treatment. but please take everything into context, the freedom fighters thought they would have the backing of the West, thinking that they really did practice what they preach when talking about supporting democracy. They now feel let down by the whole world and know that they have to do this on their own.
    They were naive and untrained when they let reporters in the front line, the US military always put reporters under strict guidance when they reporting from the front line during the Iraq invasion, always being made to say that they couldn't divulge their exact location.
    The Libyan freedom fighters are not professional soldiers, please do not hold this against them. They are just volunteers who were heady with the euphoria that after 42 years of oppression (I won't go into the details, as no one from the West could even comprehend the servitude and indignity these proud people had to live under), they could finally be free.
    All I can say is, it is sad that Libyan coverage is not being maintained, much like the West's response, but for the Libyans reading this,

    to remember that the darkest hour is always before dawn.

    By: esmu
  3. March 15, 2011, 10:06 pm

    I think the rebels have a point, even if their lack of training, etc., was a factor. Would the U.S. military allow you to broadcast specifics of their weaponry, location, etc., if you were covering them? In fact, journalists are strictly monitored, esp. in sensitive operations and actual battles, in Afghan and Iraq conflicts. The Libyan situation is an unfolding, volatile situation. I didn't realize you were shooting like it's some carnival going on.

    By: la@i
  4. July 9, 2011, 1:47 am

    gadafi his father was israel man came to libya and married girl from sirte in libya but people libya think gadafi to be libya man. gadafi wants now to make talk with rebel and come bak to his leader to do what he was always doing.

    By: ibrahim
  5. July 9, 2011, 4:48 am

    you have to attack gadafi away . two days ago i heard nato wiill not even gadafi. if gadafi hear that information the hope will enter gadafi to come back to his leader or make talk cool with rebel or give lead person near gadafis family. you will see my information. i am somali. i know what fight is. you know what gadafi and sadam were.

    By: ibrahim

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