Libyan residents of the Jamal Goubtan district in Tripoli hold a giant Libyan flag as motorists pass by.
Libyan residents of the Jamal Goubtan district in Tripoli hold a giant Libyan flag as motorists pass by.

The forgotten victims of Libya's war

By Dominique Soguel Time of article published Mar 20, 2012

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Tripoli - Libyan schoolgirls stroll the streets of the close-knit neighbourhood of Arada without a second glance at the pile of rubble that was once a house for four families before NATO explosives blew it apart.

The mound of debris in the capital Tripoli has become part of the landscape, and only birds nest there now.

But Mohammed al-Garari, who lost his home and five relatives on June 19 last year, still chokes up at the sight of crushed cradles, collapsed walls and shards of china, the few recognisable remains of his old life.

“NATO made a mistake, a fatal mistake,” said the 32-year-old as he scrambled across the rubble to what used to be the second storey where the walls were blasted open, delivering a death blow to his brother Faraj.

Mohammed found the corpse in the patio below. The home of his sister was levelled completely, killing Karima along with her husband Abdullah and their two small children.

“There was no light, it was full of smoke and at first I didn't know that the blast that woke me had hit in the heart of our house,” Garari told AFP.

That fatal air strike was the only mistake NATO openly admitted to during its seven-month long air campaign in Libya during the bloody rebellion against now dead dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

The regime at the time bussed journalists to the scene in the middle of the night to witness the horror.

“This is not propaganda,” said government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim in what came across as an admission that other casualty sites had been staged, according to an AFP journalist present at the time.

But that night less than a year ago, the mistake by the Western alliance was highlighted by the singed bodies of two men, one woman and two children, all members of the same family.

“Even NATO admitted it was a mistake, but when people make mistakes they must make amends and NATO has not made amends with us - they have not come to apologise or do right by us,” Garari said.

“They destroyed my home, my family and never looked back.”

Amnesty International on Monday urged NATO to investigate the killing of dozens of civilians during its air campaign in Libya last year and to provide reparations to the people affected.

“Adequate investigations must be carried out and full reparation provided to victims and their families,” said the rights group in a statement released one year after the first air strikes were launched in Libya by the alliance.

Amnesty's call drew a rebuttal from NATO, whose spokeswoman Oana Lungescu insisted in a statement that the coalition conducted a campaign in line with its UN mandate and international norms.

The rights watchdog said it has documented 55 cases of named civilians, including 16 children and 14 women, killed in air strikes in Tripoli and the towns of Zliten, Majer, Sirte and Brega.

Garari said the air strike has also damaged his family's reputation as those who did not know them personally assumed the building was targeted because they were hiding weapons or were loyalists of the Gaddafi regime.

“Our neighbours know what we stand for and it is through their generosity that we have survived,” he said, noting that Arada was of the strongholds of the opposition and subjected to endless security raids during the conflict.

Despite the heavy losses he incurred, Garari acknowledges that NATO's intervention played a critical role in turning the tide in favour of the popular uprising against the long-time strongman.

“Many, many more lives would have been lost without them, so we thank NATO for helping their revolution. But they should still make right for their mistakes,” he said.

The NATO campaign in Libya left a deep rift within the UN Security Council.

Russia, China, South Africa and India all say NATO's tactics breached UN resolutions. The United States, Britain, France and Germany insist their actions were legal and life-saving.

Garari said countries such as China and Russia should not use NATO's mistakes in Libya as a pretext for inaction in Syria, which has seen more than a year of regime crackdown against dissent that has resulted in an estimated 9100 deaths.

“Syrians are our brothers and they need the help because (President Bashar al-) Assad is murdering his people just like Gaddafi,” he said. - Sapa-AFP

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