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LA STAMPA

The Trembling Young Voices Of Gaddafi’s Captured Mercenaries

At a makeshift prison outside of Tripoli, foreign soldiers – as young as 14 – await an uncertain fate. The Libyan rebel army colonel overseeing the inmates tells an Italian reporter that human rights will be respected. The prisoners don’t seem to believe

Two accused mercenaries being captured and questionned
Two accused mercenaries being captured and questionned
Giovanni Cerruti

TRIPOLI – At 14, Ayed is the youngest of Muammar Gaddafi's mercenaries captured by Libyan rebels and jailed in Tajura, on the outskirts of Tripoli. "I didn't do anything," he pleads. Ayed is jailed in an elementary school converted into a prison, along with 375 other inmates, many of whom are teenagers. The school's cafeteria has been turned into a mass prison cell.

The teenage prisoners are wearing light blue or pink pajamas from the nearby hospital. Some of them have been shot, some of them were informers. A padlock and a chain are all that's needed to lock them up. A former Libyan army official and 20 volunteers act as guards. "It all started on the evening of August 20, when they tried to occupy Tajura," says Mohammed Ghedyani, the 31-year-old dentist at the local hospital. "We didn't know where to lock them up. This elementary school was the only place available."

There are the children" toilets and pieces of cardboard are used as mattresses. Entering is possible only under the surveillance of the director of the prison who holds a gun, and a volunteer who holds a horsewhip. The prisoners are silent. Some pray, others sleeps, and one or two appear to be silently weeping. Ayed is one of these.

The director of the prison is 43-year-old Aden Marwan, a former colonel of Gaddafi's army. He was among the firsts to desert the army at the beginning of the revolution. "They offered me a position as a general, to try to convince me to stay," he says. In a week, he has learned all the prisoners' names. Adraman is 35 years old. He is from Mali. "I‘ve been in Libya for five years. I was a water carrier," Adraman says. "They promised me a lot of money, twice my salary. I enrolled to get more, but I didn't do anything. I didn't have weapons, just a small knife."

Taleb is from Mali too. He was promised a weekly salary of 200 euros. "I accepted, and I enrolled one month ago," he says. He, too, swears that he's done nothing wrong. "They all say the same things," says Colonel Marwan. "But whoever is here was carrying weapons. We seized them. They are a proof. Later in Tripoli they will be able to defend themselves at a trial."

Another prisoner, Nasser Bashar, 40, is nervous. "My brother-in-law has reported me. He said I'm a Gaddafi loyalist only because I had a fight with my wife," he says. But no one believes him.

"Like the Serbian"

"When Gaddafi's army entered Tajura, they knew where to go and whom to look for. Here there are no street names. There were informers," says the dentist Ghedyani. "In front of Colonel Marwan, they cannot say what we already know: they enrolled or became informers because they were promised new cars or more money."

He continues, speaking with disdain: "They thought they would have become like that Serbian mercenary who admitted that his price was 10,000 euros a week to act as a hit man in Tripoli. I'm sure that in here there are many who are like him. But they will never say it." Ghedyani pauses: "Maybe they still believe in Gaddafi's comeback."

In Tajura, many are proud of this school converted into prison. The doctors from the nearby hospital visit the wounded. Doctor Kajri el Gald is one of them. For one year he was jailed in a Gaddafi's prison. "We will never be like he was. Now, showing that we can be good and fair is our responsibility," he says. On the evening of August 20, a battle took place in the streets of Tajura and 71 people were wounded in the Fish Market's area. "I'm not aware of any dead," says Colonel Marwan.

When the rebels ordered the loyalist troops to surrender from the speaker of the minaret, the mercenaries gave up.

Colonel Marwan has turned the school's director's office into his own. There are four fake red roses on the desk, and a poster of Mickey Mouse on the wall. It is a strange place to talk about war. "It's my first time as a prison director, I cannot make mistakes," says Colonel Marwan. When asked about Amnesty International's concerns about the possible abuse of prisoners, he gets serious. "We respect Geneva's convention. That's for sure," he answers. He wants to prove it showing the cell.

In the mess hall, the eyes of the prisoners are desperate. Many of these teenage prisoners are Tuareg, nomads of the Sahara. Their hair is very short, almost looking like Marines. Thirty of them huddle together, some are trembling. "I didn't do anything," several repeat. The mess hall is too small for all of them. There are not enough pajamas from the hospital. The last prisoners to have arrived wear just a vest. They can sleep, pay, eat and wait. Since August 20, there has been no more Gaddafi to promise them money, no more Gaddafi to save them. They are starting to understand how badly they were deceived.

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