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Reflections about covering conflict in Libya

Reuters photojournalist Goran Tomasevic has been covering war for 20 years, almost half of his 41 years. Earlier this week, he left Libya after weeks of covering the conflict between anti-government forces and Moammar Gadhafi's forces. We've highlighted his images in Photoblog several times during his reporting from the country. Upon his departure, he shares his thoughts about the experience in an interview with Reuters.

Change of plans: I was meant to be arranging a doctor for my mother in Belgrade; she was supposed to have surgery. I was three days into my vacation when I saw the stories about Libya so I came back to Cairo. I don’t remember the date but I remember landing at 3.30 in the morning and I was at my house at 4am. At 5, I was driving back to the Libyan border.

Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

A rebel holds a rifle as he smokes a cigarette at a checkpoint in Brega, March 3, 2011.

Hitching a ride: The rebels were all over. As soon as you crossed the Egyptian border into Libya, they were already there. At the beginning the rebels were friendly towards us; really friendly and helpful. All these pictures that you see of them at the front lines on the trucks, when it became too spicy I’d just jump to another truck and come back a little from the front lines. I just went back and forth, back and forth. The rebels were coming and going along the road, depending on the shelling. Sometimes there were a few hundred people there, sometimes there were like five rebels there.

Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

Rebel fighters run for cover, as vehicles belonging to forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi burn, after an air strike by coalition forces, along a road between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah March 20, 2011.

Staying safe: I don’t believe in running when bombs are being dropped. Sometimes the bombs would land maybe 50-200 meters away. I’d usually sit down and watch exactly what was happening. The best thing that you can do is to stay low; there is nowhere to run, even if I was to run back, I saw the shells falling behind me. Occasionally I would jump onto the back of one of the rebel’s vehicles as they would head back from the front lines.

It’s pretty dangerous. Not like Kosovo though. Nothing was like Kosovo. It’s kind of hard to say though. You have a close call and you are lucky. In any of those places that I covered, it just takes one moment to be unlucky. We were fortunate because the shells hit the sand all the time. It would be totally different impact if the shells hit rocks or cement, the shrapnel would fly much more. But, it’s enough for just one piece of shrapnel to hit you.

 

Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

A rebel fighter fires a rocket-propelled grenade launcher during a battle on the road between Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad, March 9, 2011.

Easy shot: These RPG pictures were easy to shoot. I would just start photographing before they fired. Most of the time, they look in the air and pray before firing. When they put their head up, I would start to shoot. I believe there are a lot of former soldiers from Gaddafi’s army in the rebel force now, they just changed sides. I saw the rebels driving tanks and APCs. Each Libyan must do military service so many men know how to handle weapons and military vehicles. When I arrived, there was one guy driving an APC like a Formula One car.

Relief and relaxation upon leaving the war zone: I just talked to my mother when I crossed the border and she cried.

The driver who drove me around in Libya, a text correspondent and I came back to Egypt together. It was a long drive and we arrived back in Cairo on Sunday afternoon.

How does it feel to not be in the action at the moment? Fantastic! It is the moment to step back. I can just relax now. You have to come down. You have to stop it sometime. I’ve been shooting now for three months; I went to south Sudan on December 22nd. I have to take a break, you know.

I don’t have any problem stepping back into my normal life; not at all. I just go out, eat a couple of steaks and drink a lot of beer.  I check out the football and I’m happy. I’m not one of the photographers who have bad dreams but I have memories. You learn something from each of these memories.

See more of Tomasevic's work:
Quiet scenes of Cyrene, an ancient Greek and Roman city in Libya

Heavily armed Libyan rebels clash with Gadhafi forces near Ras Lanuf

Rebel fighters flee shrapnel in Libya