Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Inside Qaddafi’s deadly desert ‘paradise’

Alarabiya.net English

A Libyan rebel fighter shows photographs of Muammar Gaddafi with his wife Safiya Farkache, found at their beach house in Tripoli. (Photo by REUTERS)
A Libyan rebel fighter shows photographs of Muammar Gaddafi with his wife Safiya Farkache, found at their beach house in Tripoli. (Photo by REUTERS)
Libyans find it hard to believe that the green farm on the edge of the desert belonged to Moummar Qaddafi, who portrayed himself as a Bedouin who lived in tents and dined frugally on dates and camel milk.

But amid the abundant fruit trees, flower beds and manicured lawns, the signs are there: the farm can only be accessed through a massive electrified gate dotted with heat sensors.

A long road with several security checkpoints equipped with closed-circuit television cameras leads to Qaddafi’s farm, 25 kilometres (15 miles) southwest of Tripoli, and one recent visitor described the facility as like “being in Europe.”

“They told us that he lived in a tent, and look...” said Ahmad Ramadan, 27, a Tripoli port employee who rushed to see the farm after rebels smashed Qaddafi’s forces in the capital and seized his Bab al-Aziziya headquarters.

For many local visitors, the eye-dazzling panorama of green vegetation, trees and perfectly aligned vineyards that flourishes in the desert so close to the capital seems entirely out of place.

“I would have never believed there was so much green so near to Tripoli,” said Adel Boulaiha, 39, who had come with his colleague Ramadan to witness with their own eyes the opulence of Qaddafi’s true lifestyle.

A lane lined with palm trees leads to a small Moroccan-style castle with delicately carved white stucco mouldings. Part of the building appears to have been damaged by a NATO air strike.

“It’s paradise here,” said Yassin Tarhuni, a 30-year-old former television journalist, as he cast his eyes over a perfectly landscaped English garden with white tents pitched in the middle of the manicured lawn.

Qaddafi, a revolutionary who led the coup that overthrew the Libyan monarchy in 1969, despite his flamboyant dress sense and public declarations, had reportedly spurned a palatial lifestyle.

The man officially known as “guide of the revolution,” who always shunned the title of president, proclaimed a jamahiriya or “state of the masses” in March 1977.

In Libya he was known as the “brother leader” whose life, he liked to suggest, revolved around a tent.

He was reputedly born under canvas near Sirte in 1942, received his guests in tents and even took Bedouin tents with him when he travelled abroad, where they would be pitched in the grounds of five-star hotels.

Qaddafi professed a bucolic lifestyle, and his revolutionary “Green Book” offered “a third theory of the world” between capitalism and socialism, providing ─ according to him ─ the only real solution for humanity.

But according to farm visitor Walid Ghabt, 31, Qaddafi “literally choked the Libyan people.”

“It is the first time I feel wholly human,” said Ghabt as he toured the farm, the latest Qaddafi attraction for Libyans since rebels seized Bab al-Aziziya and the homes of the fallen leader’s extravagant sons.

Some people coming to see the farm left the grounds in their cars with souvenirs ranging from items of furniture and carpets to electronic goods.

But Qaddafi’s desert “paradise” is also blighted by the sight and stench of decomposing bodies.

“I was searching from my brother, who has been missing along with his son and a friend,” said Hassan Mohammed, pointing to the corpses of an adult and a child.

“This can’t be my brother ─ the body is too fat. I’ll keep looking,” he said, declining to explain what his brother could have been doing on Qaddafi’s farm.

Nearby, a man walked away shouldering an air-conditioning unit.

“It’s the first one I’ve ever had,” he said.

Another man picked at an armored-plated luxury German car with a dagger, trying to extract spare parts.

As night fell, some visitors to the farm begin leaving as yet more Libyans curious to learn more about the elusive Qaddafi’s way of life drove into the grounds to see for themselves.

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