Abu Ray reports from Tripoli as the NATO airstrikes and rebel insurgency loom ever closer. See his previous dispatches here.
As the bus pulled up to what was described as the site of a NATO airstrike, we could see the burly cameraman from Libyan state TV hurriedly stashing khaki military uniforms onto the roof of a nearby shed ahead of our arrival. It was the culmination of a truly farcical day.
Perhaps the collapsed building was just, as they said, an office and some apartments hit by a NATO missile, killing" one person? At least two people, said a bystander trotted out for the visiting journalists, others were not so sure. Maybe it was, but then why did someone have to run ahead and hide a bunch of tattered military uniforms and, as we later discovered, a helmet. Was it perhaps actually a military target?
We were in the town of Zlitan on another government organized trip, in what should have been a fascinating journey to a front line town facing an assault of rebels who had broken out of the besieged city of Misrata and were headed towards Tripoli with vengeance on their minds.
This was the war. This was the story. And even if this would be from the government's point of view, we were ready to report it. All sides of the story. Instead, after a two and a half hour drive (through some very picturesque country, Libya alternates between olive groves, date palm orchards and deserts), we arrived in a seemingly peaceful town of bland concrete buildings and stopped at a hotel" for three hours.
They never told us why and in the distance we could hear the rumble of explosions and the sound of circling aircraft, but we were stuck in a hotel watching reruns of rallies on state TV. Finally, with little notice, the increasingly fed up pack of journalists was loaded back on the bus and taken to -- a three-day-old bombing site attributed to NATO.
We had spent the day listening to the rumbles of what were probably strikes and I knew from friends on the other side that somewhere out there, maybe 10 kilometers away, there was a front line. But all we got to see was some crushed pre-fab warehouses belonging to a Turkish road building country.
"This shows how NATO wants to destroy Libya's infrastructure," bellowed an older man with a tribly hat that came out of nowhere. Then we recognized him, he'd been wearing a uniform at the hotel. Who are you? Part of the company? No, he was a member of the local broadcast channel, come to tell us about the perfidy of NATO.
So we wandered about, the area was littered with shell casings, not really clear what these were doing at a construction site. "Libyans fire guns in the air in defiance of NATO," said a diminutive woman with a headscarf and mirrored sunglasses, apparently also from the local channel.
Inside the buildings, there was none of the obvious furniture associated with offices. The rooms were mostly bare, and it appeared that all the documents had been dumped in a pile in one small room. There were papers from the Turkish Nural construction company and stacks of photocopies of Turkish passports. The one I checked, however, had a visa that expired in April.
Then, I found a room covered in Arabic graffiti shouting the praises Abdel Rahman, a martyr of the 32nd Brigade (Armored) from Kharbouli town. The 32nd was the notorious Khamis Brigade led by one of Gadhafi's bloodthirstier sons. "We took part in the events of Misrata," read another message. A scrawled date on the wall suggested these guys had been living here since May 20, another inscription read the "Popular Revolutionary Committee Communications Department."
Once upon the time this was a Turkish road construction company, but they probably left when the fighting started months ago and it had since been taken over by a military unit -- which was probably why it was bombed. So perhaps not a blow against Libya's infrastructure after all.
Then came the fiasco with the uniforms at the next site and finally, an increasingly tired, sun-scorched and cynical bunch of journalists were dragged to a hospital to meet victims of the airstrikes. We met a dozen men, who all loudly called themselves civilians, and said they had been injured when NATO bombed a civilian neighborhood a few days ago.
A neighborhood that apparently no one thought it was worth taking us to.
The steady diet of propaganda shoved at the captive audience of correspondents has left us all bitter and a bit shellshocked, just automatically disbelieving everything that is said. "This is not government propaganda, this is a true genuine appeal to the international community," said the government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim one day at a press conference, almost suggesting that everything up until that point had been propaganda.