Libyan tribes toe the line as tensions simmer

2012-03-06 17:13

Kufra - Despite an army-brokered truce, tensions still simmer in the Libyan desert city of Kufra where clashes pitting Tobou tribesmen and their allies against Zwai and other tribes claimed more than 100 lives.

"Tensions between the tribes remain but the truce, which called for a ceasefire and a halt of hostilities, has been respected," Tobou commander Issa Abdel Majid told AFP.

The national army has established a semblance of control over the city and negotiated a truce between tribal elders, an AFP reporter who visited Kufra said, but the blame game continues and allegations fly like daggers.

Veiled women of the Zwai tribe staged a vocal protest against "Chadian forces" they blame for almost a fortnight of violence in February, said the journalist who visited the south-eastern city escorted by the authorities.

Members of the Tobou ethnic group are concentrated in Chad and Niger but also have a presence in Sudan and southern Libya. Residents say the Tobou launched the attack on Kufra by raiding a farm.

Lawyer and political activist Al-Senussi Salim Al-Qimi, who is on the local elections committee, told AFP that Chadian militias entered the city and opened fire indiscriminately.

"Since the February 17 revolution, there has been a political, administrative and security void" in Kufra, a town of 40 000 people, he said, referring to last year's uprising which toppled Muammar Gaddafi.

"A group of Chadian mercenaries sent by Abdel Majid and his Tobou supporters entered Kufra, seized the main arteries of the roundabout and began firing in all directions causing a high number of civilian casualties."

Subject of reconciliation

That area is now void of residents and the streets are unlit.

Abdel Majid, who was previously responsible for monitoring borders in the area and allegedly abused his power for the purposes of smuggling, categorically denied the allegations to AFP.

The Tobou tribesmen, in turn, say that it is they who came under attack and that the other parties refuse to recognise them as Libyans, although they played a key role in liberating the south and registered as residents in the 1950s.

"We were one with the Zwai in the trenches when fighting against Gaddafi but since liberation they have wanted us out of the city and say we are not Libyans, which is a complete lie," said Rajab Sayyidi, a Tobou militiaman.

Kufra lies in a triangle where the borders of Egypt, Chad and Sudan meet.

Hamid Mussa al-Wadi, a Tobou field commander, was more optimistic on the subject of reconciliation.

"What happened was merely a clash between the Tobou and the Zwai but we are brothers and we will reconcile," Wadi said.

Tobou tribesmen passionately complain about their exclusion from Kufra's civilian and military councils and say that a long-term solution to the situation in Kufra requires their integration in these bodies.

"We were marginalised under Gaddafi and we will not tolerate being marginalised again," warned Sayyidi of the Martyr Ahmed Sharif brigade.

Tribal clashes in Kufra in February cost more than 100 lives and displaced half the population, according to UN estimates. The seriously wounded were airlifted to Benghazi and Tripoli for treatment.