Gaddafi’s men kidnap thousands in Zawiyah: rebel

RABAT (Reuters) – Government forces have kidnapped and beaten up residents of Zawiyah since recapturing the city near the capital Tripoli two weeks ago, a rebel spokesman said.

“The (Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s) battalions have deployed checkpoints at every crossroad and street in the city,” spokesman Ibrahim said by telephone from Zawiyah.

“They kidnap young men, old men, anyone below the age of 50 or 60, whether an engineer or a simple construction worker, and they are taken to an unknown location,” he said, asking to be identified only by his first name.

“Thousands have disappeared like that since they have taken the city,” he told Reuters Friday.

His story could not be independently confirmed as the Libyan government restricts movement in the territory it controls.

Mohsen, 35, who fled Zawiyah, 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli, to the Tunisian border Wednesday, also spoke of kidnappings and beatings.

“Shops are closed and the humanitarian situation is very bad. Residents are scared to leave their homes. Kidnappings and beatings are widespread,” said Mohsen.

“I can’t give you an exact number of how many people were kidnapped, tortured or killed. But they mainly carry out these attacks against civilians suspected of hiding weapons or supporting the rebels,” he said.

Foreign journalists brought to the center of Zawiyah by government forces on March 11 saw buildings scorched and pockmarked by bullets, hasty patches of fresh paint and loyalists chanting “I love Gaddafi.”

Ibrahim said rebels in Zawiyah are continuing to fight government forces, especially under the cover of darkness.

“The rebels have organised themselves into guerilla groups to fight the battalions,” he said. “Most of the action happens at night time. Last night for instance a heavy exchange of fire happened after rebels attacked a checkpoint. Many were killed.”

“The city feels bizarre. Destruction is everywhere and virtually all the shops are closed.

Mohsen described a similar situation. “It’s a ghost town. Gaddafi’s men are still firmly in control but they are facing resistance from the rebels in some streets,” he said.

(Reporting by Souhail Karam in Rabat and Joseph Nasr in Berlin; Writing by Adam Tanner; Editing by Louise Ireland)

Gaddafi’s men kidnap thousands in Zawiyah: rebel