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Geopolitics

The Bitter Tale Of A Teenaged Son Sent Off To Fight For Gaddafi

Salim, 16, is the son of Gaddafi loyalists from Sabratha, north of Tripoli. He now lies in a hospital prison bed in Misrata, lucky to be alive, but scared to contact his parents -- and knowing his life will never be the same.

Libyan voter (by septimius severus)
The ultimate price of war (©DavideMonteleone/Contrasto)
Lemine Ould Salem

MISRATA – Salim bites his lip, then closes his eyes. Even so, we can guess that he's trying his best to hold back tears. But when he pulls himself together, it's just to whisper a few words that capture all the pain he's trying to resist. "Gaddafi has left, but what about me? What will I do like this?, " asks Salim, staring at his leg, or at least, what's left of it.

Salim, 16, is a high school student from Sabratha, about 45 miles north of Tripoli. He fought among Gaddafi's military units. Today he is in jail, in Misrata, one of the bastions of the anti-Gaddafi resistance that fell into rebel hands last May, after several long months of fighting. Salim, along with other injured, is jailed in a block that has been turned into a hospital by those who now command the city.

The war is not over, and the new authorities have other priorities before taking care of war prisoners. So Salim will probably have to wait a while before getting back to his family. His parents are very unlikely to visit him in Misrata, Salim says, since both his mother and father are "well-known pro-Gaddafi people". Like elsewhere in Libya, those who stood by Gaddafi won't risk getting in touch with the rebels yet.

Salim recounts how he ended up in this makeshift prison hospital. He says that just after his end-of-year exams in June, officers working for Gaddafi and close to his parents came to talk to them. "(The officers) wanted me to leave with them to take some kind of military course. That way I would be able to defend myself and to defend my family against the mercenaries and terrorists that were threatening to invade Libya." His parents immediately agreed. "They just asked me if I was okay with that. I was," recalls Salim. "Like my parents, I was myself a victim of the regime propaganda."

On the same day, along with 300 other child soldiers, the teenager was sent to Tripoli. Gaddafi's army had moved out of its barracks, into civilian neighborhoods of town, and Salim found himself located in the abandoned offices of a Turkish company. There, for three days, he learned to shoot, disassemble and clean weapons, especially Kalashnikovs. "I know this weapon very well now," he says.

However, contrary to the promise the officers made to Salim's parents, he was not coming back to Sabratha. Instead, he was sent to Misrata: after the pro-regime forces lost the city last May, Gaddafi wanted to recover it at all costs.

Ambushed

Salim fought in the western part of the city, in the Dafniya neighborhood, where rebels and pro-Gaddafi outfits fought each other night and day until that moment when the regime's forces were forced to flee.

With three other teenagers, Salim jumped on the first vehicle that was heading out of the city. But the vehicle was ambushed. His three companions were killed, and Salim was injured. "I played dead, but one of the rebels saw I was breathing and asked for me to be carried to the hospital. I fainted on the way there and when I woke up, I saw that my leg was missing," says Salim.

On his Misrata prison bed, the teen wonders if he could have somehow avoided what happened. "From the first days on the military front, I understood rather quickly that it wasn't the right place for me to be, that I had been mistaken, that I should have been somewhere else, not on a front with a weapon. I should have been out playing with my friends. I should have run away. I might still have both my legs. I don't know why I didn't do it," he says, his voice growing sadder.

But other adult inmates say Salim would never have succeeded in running away. "He would have been shot right away," says a former pro-Gaddafi officer. "On every front, our leaders had stationed soldiers to shoot any fighter who tried to desert."

Read the original article in French

Photo - Davide Monteleone

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