Frontline surgeon says morale of anti-Gadafy forces high


A SURGEON with dual Libyan-Irish citizenship who has spent much of the past three months treating the injured on the frontline in Libya says morale remains high among those battling to oust Muammar Gadafy despite high civilian casualties.

“The mood is good, despite the massive suffering and the fact it is taking longer than people expected,” said Salem Langhi, an orthopedic surgeon who worked for 16 years in Ireland before returning to Libya last September.

“Morale is still high. Everyone feels they have long passed the point of no return. They know there is no question of going back. They will never contemplate surrender.”

Mr Langhi, who was speaking by phone from Jadu, a stricken hamlet in Libya’s western mountains, is one of several doctors who have volunteered to treat the wounded at the frontline as it has shifted back and forth since late February.

The surgeon, who spent much of his time in Ireland in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, felt moved to act after the uprising that first started in his home city of Benghazi evolved into fierce fighting between rebels and Gadafy forces further west.

He is now dividing his time between Jadu and the nearby town of Zintan, which has been heavily pounded by Col Gadafy’s troops for several weeks. Before that, he spent two weeks in Misrata, the rebel-held city which has experienced some of the most intense bombardment by regime forces.

“The whole city of Misrata is destroyed,” Mr Langhi said. “There isn’t one building left standing in many parts of the city. The most shocking thing was seeing whole families burned to death in their cars after they were hit by shelling. We saw some horrific injuries . . .”

Human rights organisations are investigating the deliberate targeting of medical personnel by Col Gadafy’s forces over the past three months. A number of Mr Langhi’s colleagues have been captured by the regime, others have been killed. “It has been very risky for us because Gadafy’s forces have no respect for international conventions in terms of the protection of medical personnel.

“We have been directly targeted. Our hospitals and vehicles have been targeted. You feel like you are right on the frontline all the time,” he said.

“We treat everyone, including Gadafy’s soldiers, but the regime’s attitude is ‘you are either with us or against us and therefore a target’. They look at us not like we are doctors and neutral, but as if we are the people they are fighting against.”

Last week Nato stepped up its operations against Col Gadafy, using attack helicopters for the first time. Mr Langhi believes the international community should exert more political pressure on the Libyan leader.