Witness: Sleeping in Gaddafi's bedroom

Tue Nov 8, 2011 8:42am EST
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The following story is the result of a reporting trip by Reuters correspondent Oliver Holmes to the Sahara desert town of Obari in southern Libya. Holmes, one of the first foreign journalists to visit the area since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, has been reporting from the Middle East for the past three years, notably in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.

By Oliver Holmes

GADDAFI'S VILLA JUST OUTSIDE OBARI, Libya (Reuters) - While I lay in silence, my eyes adjusted to the darkness and I could hear the fighters talking excitedly next door -- I felt like a child who had been put to bed early.

Muammar Gaddafi's room was large, but not enormous and his monstrous bed took up the majority of the room. Two tacky chandeliers hung from the ceiling.

Earlier that day, I had called a friend who used to be one of Gaddafi's Colonels in the Libyan Air force before fleeing Tripoli with his children in February. He was now back, carrying members of the country's provisional government around the country. "I'm flying to the Sahara in thirty minutes," he said. "Come along."

Gangs of pro-Gaddafi forces and armed mercenaries are believed to be roaming the country's south and journalists had warned me of a kidnapping risk -- a westerner always works as a nice bargaining chip -- but flying down to avoid the seven-hour ride in open desert cut the danger considerably.

This trip, I found out on the flight down, was so members of the northern-based National Transitional Council (NTC) could reach out to the Tuareg tribal nomads who roam the desert and many of whom backed Gaddafi during the revolt which ousted the eccentric and brutal dictator.

Having landed, and after a hair-raising drive over cracked desert roads, we arrived at a walled compound which had been covered in NTC flags and revolutionary graffiti. Two pickup trucks with heavy machine guns stood at the metal gate, which was opened as we pulled up.

The sprinklers were on and lush green grass contrasted with the arid plains outside. Fighters loyal to the NTC in army fatigues mooched along the gravel paths and darker skinned Tuareg men, dressed in fantastic flowing robes and head scarves, sat chatting in some of the straw huts -- each with its own air conditioning unit.   Continued...

<p>Libyan fighters speak to a member of the National Transitional Council (NTC) in a room in Muammar Gaddafi's villa just outside Obari November 3, 2011. REUTERS/Oliver Holmes</p>