The Australian - - WORLD -

In Libya’s law­less south the sight of Ab­dul Salam al-Busayri run­ning down the desert road be­gan to draw a crowd.

Lo­cals who had fled their homes to avoid fight­ing were too afraid to re­turn home, un­til Busayri, who had cov­ered 145km on an un­ortho­dox peace mis­sion, jogged into their lives.

As he ran, some be­gan to go with him, others fol­lowed in their cars. It was the start of his ex­tra­or­di­nary peace marathons, which have caught the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion. “They feared the war was go­ing to start again. When they saw me run­ning on my own, it con­vinced many the area was safe,” he said.

That was in 2015, when that area was a bat­tle­ground. His un­cle had been killed in cross­fire, the fourth mem­ber of his fam­ily to die since the 2011 up­ris­ing that top­pled dic­ta­tor Muam­mar Gaddafi.

Heartbroken, Busayri de­cided to do some­thing. “I got the idea that run­ning could help peo­ple stop fight­ing and in­stead sit down and talk. I planned to run be­tween the war­ring sides and talk to lead­ers of both and en­cour­age peo­ple to go home. They had a huge re­cep­tion for me on both sides. Both loved the ini­tia­tive. I con­vinced them to talk to each other.”

Since then Busayri, 30, from Qaraqra, 145km east of Sabha, has clocked up more than 1600km run­ning through Libya’s con­flict zones. This year alone he has run nearly 1100km. He of­ten crosses front­lines to talk to lead­ers from the war­ring fac­tions to spread his mes­sage of peace. He car­ries a flag em­bla­zoned with his catch­phrase: “We em­brace and rec­on­cile with each other.”

He plans to run with the flag to Rus­sia for the foot­ball World Cup next year, to show that Libya, a coun­try associated with ter­ror­ism and war, is peace­ful.

Busayri could only save enough to buy a pair of train­ers in 2003. He ran his first race, a 9km run in 1999, bare­foot. Al­though he has never com­peted for Libya, he fin­ished first in a marathon in the south in 2007. He now has some spon­sor­ship but he doesn’t have the money for ex­pen­sive run­ning kit.

He has been caught in the cross­fire. Last year while train­ing in Zawiya, 65km west of Tripoli, he had to run for his life when mili­tias opened fire.

In March he ran into wartorn Derna, once an Is­lamic State strong­hold. It is now con­trolled by al-Qa’ida-linked groups, fight­ing the Libyan army. Even there he was wel­comed. “Peo­ple started to come out and cheer for me, they were happy so we cel­e­brated,” he said.

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