Glimpse of Moammar Khadafi (2)
IN OUR pre-departure briefing with Salem N. Adem, Libya’s envoy to Manila who carried the title of secretary of the People’s Committee, the first question we asked him was the possibility of an interview with Moammar Al Khadafi whom Libyans called simply “The Leader’’.
“Interview him? I doubt it. See? Definitely, you can see him,” he assured us.
“But can we go closer to him?” we asked him again.
“Yes. Perhaps very close enough to see much of him but not talk to him,” Adem said. He added it was difficult to arrange an interview with “The Leader”.
Our eagerness to interview Khadafi was not without reason. We were curious. We want to see in person, a leader whom the world hates or whom the Western media invariably called:
1. “The Madman” because of his mercurial moods – and the wrong swing of those moods could mean a new and bigger wave of violence for Europe or even the US.
2. “The Fox man” because he is widely known as a crafty and moves like a fox without being observed, making it difficult for his enemies to kill him.
3. “The Most Dangerous Man in the World” or “The Mad Dog of the Middle East”(or North Africa) as he was described by then US President Ronald Reagan, or to others, including people in the turbulent Middle East, a “genius”.
We first saw Kadhafi in the afternoon of June 11, 1990 during the 20th anniversary of the dismantling of US military bases in Libya. The celebration was held at the Me’itiga Air Base in Tripoli. This base used to be called US
Whelus Airfield which, Adem said, was three times bigger than Clark Air Base in Pampanga.
There was something noticeable in the celebration. All the numbers of the program were held simultaneously in that wide space fronting a huge makeshift grandstand, an open elevated desert tent where we were seated with other journalists, foreign envoys, and dignitaries led by President Mohammad Said Berri of Somalia, a good friend of Khadafi.
Jets of Libyan Arab Air Force performed various feats, shared by the Morrocan Green March Squadrons, and Tunisian aircraft.
On the ground, Arab stallions, stuntmen of Khadafi, brass bands, boy and girl scouts, and old men and women paraded in front of the guests. While everybody was watching the show, there was a commotion in front of us.
A man surrounded by men wearing green headdresses that covered their faces, except their eyes, appeared from nowhere. They pushed the crowd on-stage. It happened so fast that only a few noticed it. With them was a pretty woman in khaki uniform with a pistol tucked in her waist.
We learned later that the men and women around Khadafi were members of his International Security group, most of them non-Libyans. Among them were Filipinos who are members of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
We learned later that Khadafi’s enemies, mostly Muslim fundamentalists have gone underground and are determined to kill him.
Khadafi did not look like a mad man or terrorist to us. With a handsome and radiant face, he moved like a movie actor. Slim, about 6 feet in height, and 47 years old then, he looked 10 years younger his age. He was smiling most of the time as he watched the show.
Khadafi stayed for only 30 minutes. He suddenly stood up and left with his security men, again unannounced and without delivering any speech.
We thought that he had already left the base, but 10 minutes later, his group reappeared this time in a speeding open weapons carrier. The crowd cheered him as he waved to the people, smiling as usual.
It was dusk when we returned to our hotel passing through streets without signs or names. Our guide said those streets used to have names, but after US warplanes staged a bombing raid on the Libyan capital on April 15, 1986., Khadafi ordered the removal of all street signs for security reasons.
It will be recalled that the US bombing killed many children and civilians and wounded hundreds of citizens, including adopted son of Khadafi. Cornelio de Guzman