RAS LANUF, Mar 7 – Residents in the Libyan oil town of Ras Lanuf, the front line in a rebel uprising against ruler Muammar Gaddafi, began leaving early on Monday fearing an attack, an AFP reporter said.
A dozen or so cars could be seen driving out of town in one 10-minute interval, heading east along the Mediterranean coast to the town Brega, which the rebels captured last week.
"We heard that they are arresting and kidnapping people and we have to leave now," said one father driving a silver sedan with two children in the back.
The rebel presence at the main checkpoint was very thin, just about 15 fighters with two anti-aircraft guns and two vans, said an AFP reporter.
The only hotel in town evacuated guests for about three hours, from 5am to 8am (0300 GMT to 0600 GMT) with staff knocking on doors, shouting "emergency, emergency, you should leave". Almost all the guests were journalists.
Hotel staff said they heard from Bin Jawad that they were clearing the town "because they were heard there would be a battle".
But the situation was confused, with some people taking their chances to head west beyond Bin Jawad, despite warnings from rebels at the checkpoint.
Another AFP reporter saw several cars packed with families going towards Bin Jawad and shortly after, the hotel re-opened.
One man said he was taking his family to Noufria to check on relatives. "Hopefully we\’ll be there at 8am. God willing, there will be no problem."
One of the rebels at the checkpoint tried to talk them out of it, but he seemed confident they would reach safely.