20 Aug 2011

Civilians flee before the battle for Tripoli starts

Lindsey Hilsum blogs on the exodus of civilians doing everything they can to flee Tripoli before war arrives.

As we drove north from Zintan yesterday we met dozens of cars coming the other way. Laden with mattresses, pots and pans and even the occasional fridge, these were families fleeing Tripoli. Some were coming in taxis.

At a rebel checkpoint, a young woman wearing an all-encompassing black abaya, was beside herself with excitement. “We are freedom!” she said in enthusiastic if not entirely grammatical English. “When I see the flag” – she meant the rebel tricolour as opposed to Ghadaffi’s block green – “I cry, I cannot say my feeling.”

Her father told me that rebels staged nightly raids on government checkpoints in the capital, and people sprayed anti-Gaddafi grafitti under cover of darkness. “Now the Ghaddafi soldiers are afraid,” he said.

Another young woman put it more poetically.

“In Tripoli there is no silence in the night,” she said. Squashed into the family car with her younger brothers and mother, she explained that they had used their contacts to get out – soldiers were trying to prevent families from leaving the capital.

I’m sure others have bribed their way through checkpoints. However they did it, today’s exodus is a sign of things to come: the war is moving inexorably towards the Libyan capital, and those who can are doing everything they can to leave before the battle starts.

Follow Lindsey Hilsum on Twitter: @lindseyhilsum