Libya - The Absurd

By: Associated Press Email
By: Associated Press Email

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) - The small note in curly handwriting was
quietly passed by a medic to a foreign reporter in a Tripoli
hospital.

Its hastily scrawled contents suggested that Libyan officials were lying when they said a baby girl was wounded in a NATO attack.
Government officials had bused reporters to the Tripoli Central
Hospital to see the baby, whom they identified as Haneen.

She lay on a stark hospital cot, with colorful tubes attached to
her body. Her foot was bandaged.

"This is a case of road traffic accident," the medic's note
read.

"This is the trouth," said the last line, the word misspelled.

That small scrap of paper underlines the absurdity confronting
reporters who try to cover Moammar Gadhafi's regime in Tripoli, the
Libyan capital.

It appears that officials exaggerate the scope of and casualties
from two months of NATO air strikes that have targeted sites
critical to Gadhafi. Regime officials try to prove that alliance
strikes, instead of protecting Libyan civilians, is doing them
harm.

Those thundering NATO strikes do sometimes kill and wound
civilians. They do cause damage to homes, hospitals and roads.

But some government officials appear determined, understandably,
to exagerate the damage done and casualties caused.

Government officials said the baby girl was injured in a NATO
strike on a target near her house on the outskirts of Tripoli early
Sunday.

A Libyan official identified one man who spoke to reporters as
the child's neighbor. As he spoke to reporters, the Libyan official
nudged him to condemn NATO.

A woman who was identified as her mother was led by a Libyan
official to stand beside the baby. Photographers snapped photos.

And then a medic quitely dropped the note. A reporter covered it
with his foot and read it only later, when government officials
weren't looking.

Reporters in Tripoli have agreed not to photograph the note,
identify the medic's specific job or the medic's gender. They fear
the care-giver would face harsh retribution if identified. The note
is in the possession of a foreign reporter who is allowing other
journalists to see it.

It was scrawled in blue ink on the back of a doctor's diagnosis
form.

The medic disappeared into a crowd of hospital staff before
reporters could ask questions.

Hours later, reporters were shipped to another site where officials said a NATO strike targeted a farm house on Tripoli's
outskirts.

An unexploded, rusting bomb lay between the palms and olive
trees on the farm.

"The women ran away screaming and the children lay on the
floor," said the farm owner Mohammed al-Najeh. The 50-year-old
said he and his family were sitting in the garden when the bomb
landed on Sunday evening.

The farmer's young son nodded solemnly, clutching a large green
flag - the color of the Libyan regime.

But what appeared to be Cyrillic script used by the Russians
could be seen on the back of the barrel-shaped explosive.

Russia, of course, is not part of NATO. But it has been an arms
supplier to Libya in the past.

When questioned about the Russian script, reporters were offered
a different story.

"The NATO strike hit a missile depot about a kilometer (about
half a mile) away," said one man.

"The missiles flew in the air, and one of them landed here,"
the man said.

It was the same man who was initially identified as the baby
girl's neighbor earlier in the day. When pressed by reporters, he
identified himself as a government official called Emad Ghaith.

Libya's deputy foreign minister said it was not government
policy to make up stories for the foreign press.

"The government message is credible. I am sure if there is a
mistake, its not from government sources," said Khaled Kaim at a
press briefing at a bombed-out building on Monday.

He said Libyan residents wanting to emphasize how they are
suffering under NATO attacks might be be exaggerating.

"It is from people who are enthusiastic, and they want to show
journalists that there is injustice and targeting of civilians,"
he said.


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