Gaddafi’s Libya (and mine): Part Nine

Gaddafi’s Libya (and mine): Part Nine

In 1986 the lid blew off the pot. For years the UK had been trying, with no success, to persuade the European Union to impose stringent sanctions on the Gaddafi regime and a debate was tabled to settle the matter once and for all. The UK and the US had dropped heavy hints to the effect that, if they did not get their way, military action was likely to follow. Tuning into the BBC World Service I learnt that the EU had refused the plea for sanctions.

That evening I was due to have dinner and a stroll with Sue, a British friend who worked for the Libyan petroleum organisation. After eating we strolled along the quay where civilian ships – mostly cargo – berthed. Opposite this was a military dockyard, where vessels from the Soviet navy had been berthed for decades, on what was euphemistically termed a friendship call. We couldn’t help noticing that the Soviet vessels had left their dockyard and were moored interspersed with civilian ships.

“Looks like the Kremlin has been tipped off as to what’s coming,” I said.
“What do you mean?” asked Sue.
“Maybe they assume the US and the Brits won’t bomb the civilian dockyard.”
“What do we do?”
“Don’t know about you, but I’m going to wave to those sweet Soviet sailors over there.”

This I did and received cheery Russian greetings in return, which did not extend, unfortunately, to an invitation to seek shelter on the ship. Then I walked Sue back to her flat, had a few glugs of grappa, and caught a taxi back to campus, where all hell was to break loose.
I read for a while and then got to sleep. Sometime later I was thrown out of bed (I literally landed on the floor) by the shock of the sound of low-flying jet aircraft hurtling over the hall of residence. The noise was indescribable. A few moments later, the sound of explosions in the distance.

I tried switching on the light, but the power was off. Hearing my colleagues clambering up the stairs outside my rooms, I dressed and joined them; we made our way up to the flat roof and stood in clusters trying to identify the location of the huge fires that were burning in the distance. The Air Force base was obvious; others we were unsure about.
To skip sequence for a bit, we were aware that the regime had positioned sites of political and military sensitivity amongst other buildings in the vain hope this would render them invulnerable to attack.

A couple of days later, when getting around was still feasible, I made my way to the Rehabilitation Centre (a place that nurtured people with damaged limbs and other disabilities) to check on a friend, and discovered that the building was very badly damaged as it was sited right next door to a training camp for the armed wing of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, which had been flattened.

Back to bed, fully clothed, and – remarkably – to sleep, only to be woken again by a colossal explosion, very nearby. Shoes on, grabbing my already packed backpack, and back to the stairs, only heading downstairs this time, as that was where my colleagues were going. Outside we discovered one of the Faculty buildings had been bombed.
“Odd,” said a colleague. “We didn’t hear an aircraft.”
We decided to head for open ground and set off, only to go into reverse when we realised we were heading for the university power station and we certainly didn’t want to be close to that if it blew up.

“Let’s head for the beach,” shouted one. And then: “Where’s Chris?”
“Here I am.”
“Got any grappa?”
“Two full bottles in my backpack.”
A nice little group of us on the beach – me and buddies from Finland, Egypt and Mali. We watched the fires in the distance until dawn, while a sweet desert fox watched us, and then we trudged back to try to get a bit more sleep (or in the case of my grappa-filled group, some fruit and strong Egyptian-style coffee.

A few days later an explanation circulated for the explosion on campus. Next to the university (remember what I said about the siting of sensitive establishments) there was a Soviet Sam-5 missile site. Once the bombing was done (and we’d heard from the BBC that the planes had taken off from a base in the UK), members of the Revolutionary Committees had broken into the site and had pressed a few buttons, hoping to launch a Sam-5 missile towards London. It had gone straight up in the air and had plummeted down on to campus.
To be concluded

Chris Dunton

Previous Machesetsa victory disputed
Next Gaddafi’s Libya (and mine): Part Ten

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