Monday, June 20, 2011

A petty tyrant hides behind the relics of a magnificent civilisation

For the past four months I’ve been trying to access the ancient site of Leptis Magna, but geopolitics have rather got in the way. Seventy-five miles or so from Tripoli, Leptis has not seen any active conflict – yet. Still, it would have felt not a little self-indulgent for me to drift around the ancient monuments taking notes while all about was on fire.

Now I wish I’d travelled before the conflict began. Rebel forces in Libya reported this week that Colonel Gaddafi is using the site as an archaeological shield. Missiles, launchers and troops are, they say, snuggled among columns, corridors and archways. Nato forces – in Gaddafi’s reckoning – won’t bomb them, or his men. Clever. They won’t. But if Gaddafi is holding explosives in this World Heritage Site, a single stray cigarette butt could kick start a sequence that sends it all up in smoke.

More at The Telegraph