Libyan leaders grapple with growing discontent among wounded

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Libya’s interim leaders came under increasing scrutiny from fighters who accuse them of not doing enough for combat-wounded troops dying of treatable injuries in the field and languishing in crowded hospitals.

The case of the war wounded — estimated to number in the tens of thousands — adds to a growing list of challenges for Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) as they try to restore order following the revolt that ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Outside al-Jalaa Hospital in the eastern city of Benghazi, dozens of men gathered at the third day of a protest against the NTC’s handling of veterans led by 28-year old Hamsa Saad Mohammed, a fighter shot in the thigh who says he needs complicated medical treatment abroad, Reuters reports.
“They are trading with our blood — they have luxurious cars and houses while we suffer,” he said from his wheelchair, draped in Libya’s new flag and flanked by a half dozen wounded men and children protesting on hospital beds.
“We spent six hours without antibiotics upon arriving here. Volunteer students from the medical schools are helping and they’re doing an amazing job… but what about the NTC?”

Other fighters say that while charities have been aiding the wounded and families of those killed, the NTC is seen as not moving fast enough to help its many wounded.

One wounded veteran who declined to be named said that if frontline troops knew how the wounded were being treated, they would think twice before joining the assault against Gaddafi’s last remaining bastion in the city of Sirte.

Complicating the matter is a growing desire by many for treatment in Europe, which has led to bitterness amid perceptions that the NTC is awash in cash from unfrozen assets in foreign countries, which Libya’s leaders deny.

MANY DEMANDS

On Tuesday, NTC Vice Chairman Abdel Hafiz Ghoga attempted to calm passions at a heated meeting with representatives from field units, saying he was doing his best in a complicated situation while the numbers of wounded swell by the dozens each day.
“We are offering them all the chance to go abroad but according to priority,” he said after being heckled by wounded veterans and failing to convince Mohammed to call off his protest. “The injury itself is the only indicator to allow physicians here to decide to send them abroad.”

In a sign of the matter’s urgency, the NTC dispatched international medics to Sirte from Benghazi on Wednesday to setup a field hospital – the lack of which has been a complaint among fighters — while interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil heard grievances at a veterans’ association meeting.
“Many at the front are simply being driven home or to hospital before being stabilised, and are dying of shock… we need to setup a triage centre,” said a member of a dozen-strong aid team heading to Sirte who declined to be named.

The handling of Libya’s war wounded is being seen as a serious test for the NTC.
“There are many demands by the wounded and the families of war dead,” said Nasreldin Bukatif, a Libyan political science professor working with the NTC. “But there is an enormous lack of political experience in this country and people sometimes have unrealistic expectations.”
“It could become a serious problem for the NTC if they are not dealt with quickly enough – the fighters have learned only one way of resolving problems, with guns.”



Meanwhile, in a ward filled with tearful families in al-Jalaa hospital, 23-year-old student Fuad Abd-el-Karim lies stricken with fever from a gunshot wound he received on February 17, seen as a symbolic day in the Libyan uprising as it was the first time Gaddafi’s forces fired on a large crowd of protesters.
“My family paid $13,000 for treatment in Egypt and Tunisia,” he said, showing surgical scars running the length of his swollen leg. “There is nerve damage and infection too complicated for treatment in Jordan and Turkey — I want to go to Germany.”