In the heart of the Mediterranean city of Sirte, the Ouagadougou conference centre lies in ruins, the showpiece of Moamer Kadhafi’s pan-African dream smashed by Libya’s new regime forces.
“Who cares about Africans? We have enough to do dealing with Arabs,” shouted one of a group of National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters inside the fortress-like centre, built by Kadhafi to host African summits.
NTC forces on Sunday seized control of the conference centre, a key target since they launched a September 15 offensive on the fallen strongman’s hometown.
Four weeks of shelling has largely destroyed the sprawling complex, which groups 10 rectangular buildings covering several acres (hectares) ringed by high iron gates.
“No resident of Sirte was allowed to enter here. It was only for foreigners and members of the regime,” said an NTC fighter.
The facade of the main building is pierced by shelling and windows are smashed, littering the white marble entrance of the main hall, where part of the metal ceiling has collapsed.
The interior of the landmark centre is in ruins. Benches are shredded by shrapnel, walls pockmarked, furniture is destroyed and the floors flooded with broken glass.
Desks and cabinets block the emergency exits, which served as sniper posts for pro-Kadhafi diehards.
On the upper floor, NTC fighters busily searched the drawers in the administration offices as well as the completely empty fridges in the kitchens.
In the cafeteria next door, imitation Louis XVI dining chairs were still perfectly aligned with tables covered by the dust of the bombing.
The glass railing of an escalator has been left miraculously intact. Huge yellow sofas are lined up against the walls of the first floor, the apparent rest area for heads of states.
Displayed on every wall, slogans highlight the fight against “colonialism” and the glories of “Arab-African unity.”
Down the hall, the conference room where Kadhafi, the self-proclaimed “King of Kings of Africa,” brought together his counterparts in the continent is almost burned down.
The circular room is plunged in darkness, amid the smell of burning plastic.
“It’s all money stolen from the Libyans,” said an NTC fighter. “And for what? To satisfy the whims of a madman who forced us to live more than 40 years as slaves.”
A meeting room with no windows has escaped almost intact, except for a thick layer of dust on its desks made of expensive wood and a flat-screen television, which caught the attention of fighters.
Outside the entrance, armed men waved the new flags of Libya and Iraq.
After seizing the centre, fighters spread throughout the complex, tearing down portraits of the fugitive Kadhafi and the green flags of his fallen 42-year regime.
A day after taking a four-lane avenue into the centre, the NTC forces also seized Sirte’s university and its new campus, a huge site where Kadhafi’s snipers had been picking them off from unfinished buildings.
Bullets and shells later on Sunday hit the Ouagadougou centre again, but this time from Kadhafi loyalists to the north.