Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes

Archive for September 2012

ON THE TRANS-SAHARAN PEOPLE TRAFFICKING ROUTES – KUFRA (UPDATE 28TH FEBRUARY 2017)

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Kufra is a cluster of oases in south eastern Libya 1,500 kilometres or so from the Mediterranean coast. Around 60,000 people now live there. It is on the old trans-Saharan slave trade route from Chad in the south to Benghazi in the north. It is now on the illegal migrant route from Khartoum to the Mediterranean. There are other routes through western Libya from Timbuktu and Kano to Tripoli which were used in the past by slave traders.
When they reach Kufra, migrants are transported at night across the desert to the coast in covered trucks. They are then embarked on flimsy and overcrowded boats for the hazardous sea trip to Malta, Lampedusa or mainland Italy. The UN Refugee Agency released figures in January 2012 showing that more than 1,500 irregular migrants or refugees drowned or went missing last year while attempting crossings of the Mediterranean Sea.
Kufra was a holy place. It was the seat of the Senussi theocracy which, for a number of years, controlled the southern part of the old province of Cyreniaca and oversaw the passing slave trade which persisted until at least 1911. It is now the hub of an illegal trade in arms, drugs, alcohol and humans. There have been a number of disturbances there between the Arab al-Zwia tribe and the African Tebu minority. These clashes reflect the ancient animosity between the Tebus and the al-Zawia but are also part of a turf war for control of the smuggling trade and people trafficking.
The most striking thing about Kufra is that it is a very long way from anywhere. Libya’s defence ministry, ultimately responsible for securing nearly 6,400km of land and sea borders, has borne the brunt of public criticism for a hopelessly under-resourced effort to stem the flow of migrants. The Libyan government is not strong and the revolution which brought it to power all but destroyed the standing army and weekend the police force, effectively replacing both with local militias.
The movement of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa through Libya towards the countries of Sothern Europe is inexorable and growing. It is too easy to shift the responsibility for stemming the flow onto Libya which has a few problems of its own to deal with at the moment. There are forces outside its control which need attention.
In 2007 the Nigerian embassy in Tripoli published this:-‘For many Nigerians, the only means of reaching Europe is by taking the risk of crossing the Sahara Desert to one of the North African countries. Recently, Libya has become the most preferred country of transit for illegal immigrants from the sub-Saharan Africa, from where they embark on a more suicidal journey of crossing the Mediterranean Sea into Italy. Many are making this arduous journey on their own volition; spending days and nights going through dunes and mountains, violence and suffering, risking their lives in temperatures sometimes reaching 50°C. Other hazards faced by the immigrants include possible abduction by several rebel groups, i.e. the Salafist, or the marauding Touareg gangs, who often rob, and rape their victims! Increasingly, among these migrants are young girls, who are lured into this journey under the pretext that they would work either in Libya or in Italy. Sadly, these girls end up in brothels, subjected to horrible sexual abuse, until they die in the hands of their captors. A few lucky ones are rescued by the police or the Nigerian Mission in one of the transit countries. Unfortunately, for most of them life would never be the same again, as they often contract HIV/AIDS while in these brothels.’
John Oakes

Update 11th October 2014

This site gives details of the people trafficking routes to and through Libya today;
http://www.iom.int/cms/en/sites/iom/home/what-we-do/migration-policy-and-research/migration-policy-1/migration-policy-practice/issues/december-2013-january-2014/mixed-migration-into-libya-mappi.html?

Update 13th February 2015

The number of deaths on the Mediterranean crossing from Libya to Italy and Malta remains high and the number of coastguard boats devoted to migrant rescue has been reduced. This appeared in the Libya Times on 11the February 2015;

‘Just two days after 29 migrants died of hypothermia after being rescued by the Italian coast guard in the Mediterranean, International Office of Migration (IOM) and UNHCR officials say they fear that another 300 migrants have died trying to make the crossing from Libya to Italy.’

Update 20th February 2017

This from the British Guardian Newspaper makes it clear that people trafficking is brutal and flourishing in Libya:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/20/migrant-slave-trade-libya-europe

Update 28th February 2017

This should be compulsory reading for everyone with an interest in the huaman condition;

Click to access a-deadl-journey-for-children—unicef-report-data.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

Written by johnoakes

September 11, 2012 at 10:43 am

LIBYA – ‘The Deal in the Desert – Dining with the Devil without long spoons’ (Updated 24th January 2015)

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The meeting in 2004 between Muammar Gaddafi and Tony Blair in the former’s famous Bedouin tent was labelled the ‘Deal in the Desert’. Amongst other things it led to an exchange of information between MI6 and Gaddafi’s intelligence service.
In my blog on 21st August I argued that when dining with the devil one should use a long spoon and Mr Blair misplaced his when he and Gaddafi met that day. At best, the ‘Deal in the Desert’ may have been and exercise in excessive pragmatism. At worst, and suspicion is growing that the worst is likely, it may have been a disaster.
There was tawdriness in the way the Blair government used the British intelligence services. It may have led to deterioration in standards as bad leadership so often does. For example, the manner in which Alistair Campbell, Mr Blair’s Director of Communications and Strategy, presented the case for going to war against Saddam Hussein was cavalier and cynical.
On 3rd February 2003 Campbell produced a dossier which asserted that Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction. It was called ‘Iraq: It’s Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation’ and was said to have been the distillation of the best intelligence available. It was later to be called the ‘Dodgy Dossier’ and was largely plagiarised, some, it is said, from the work of a graduate student whose typos were not corrected. It must surely have embarrassed some good MI6 officers.
A government capable of such cynicism might well have known – but chose to ignore – that intelligence gathered by the Gaddafi regime would be tainted. It might be argued that it also knew that the USA was passing on intelligence gained by torturing suspects during the notorious ‘rendition’ program of the Bush era.
The Libya Herald reports that Gaddafi’s former spy-chief, Abdullah Al-Senussi, has been extradited by Libya from Mauritania and will go on trial in Libya soon. We are hoping to hear a great deal from Mr Senussi. Perhaps he will be asked about the destruction of PA103 over Lockerbie, the Union des Transports Aériens flight number 772 which was blown up in 1989, the notorious massacre in Tripoli’s Abu Salem jail, the back channel conversations which may have preceded the release by the Scottish government of Abdelbaset Ali Mohammad al Megrahi and of the connections between Gaddafi’s intelligence services and MI6.
The Libya Herald also carries and excellent piece about a Human Rights Watch report, released yesterday, which states that scores of incriminating documents have been discovered, some of which were in the offices of former Libyan intelligence chief Musa Kusa after Tripoli fell to rebel forces. They are said to show a high level of cooperation between the Gaddafi government in Libya and the US and the UK governments in the renditions of Libyan prisoners during the Bush admiration.
The Human Rights Watch report also argues that ‘the US played the most extensive role in the renditions back to Libya’ where prisoners were tortured by the Gaddafi regime, probably at the behest of Mr Senussi. It adds… ‘Other countries, notably the UK, were also involved even though these governments knew and recognized that torture was common during Gaddafi’s rule’.
The Libya Herald quotes three of the dissidents returned to Libya who say ‘they were subsequently interrogated by American, British, French and Italian intelligence officers in Qaddafi’s jails’. MI6 may be working on damage limitation plans.

Update 13th December 2012
It has just been reported in the Telegraph that the British government has made a £2 million out of court settlement with a sometime Libyan dissident, Sami al Saadi, who was rendered from Hong Kong to Gaddafi’s Libya where he was imprisoned and tortured. Papers relating to the case, in which MI6 may have been involved, were found in the offices of Musa Kusa after Tripoli was liberated in 2011.
It seems that Sami al Saadi intended to take the British government to trial but that would have entailed the case being heard in secret. As he pointed out secret trails were common in Libya under Gaddafi and he was not about to repeat the experience in Britain.

In the British Telegraph today, Sir Richard Dearlove, who was head of MI6 at the time, has been quoted as saying: “It was a political decision, having very significantly disarmed Libya, for the government to co-operate with Libya on Islamist terrorism. The whole relationship was one of serious calculation about where the overall balance of our national interests stood.”

It was a shoddy ‘Deal in the Desert’ was it not?
Read: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9742884/Britain-pays-out-2-million-to-illegal-rendition-Libyan.html

Update 27th July 2013

This in the British Telegraph has to be read, though perhaps with a pinch of salt. It suggests that the release of the Lockerbie bomber was linked to a major arms deal.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10206659/Lockerbie-bomber-release-linked-to-arms-deal-according-to-secret-letter.html

Update 4th August 2013

The British Sunday Telegraph seem to have unearthed evidence of some murky aspects of the relationship between Mr. Blair and Gaddafi. Whilst this piece, dated 4t August 2013, might be read with caution it raises some serious questions.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/tony-blair/10220684/Tony-Blair-helped-Colonel-Gaddafi-in-1bn-legal-row.html

Update 21st December 2013

The failure of Belhaj’s attempt to sue the sometime British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, in connection with his rendition back to Libya and subsequent torture has sparked a number of articles in the UK broadsheets. This from the Guardian is amongst the most thoughtful and gives context to Sir Richard Dearlove’s statement posted above.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/20/libyan-rendition-claim-uk-interests

Update 26th January 2014

The deal in the desert has repercussions for Toney Blair again. This time the victims of the IRA Semtex campaign are apparently suing him for allegedly scuppering their chances of compensation from the Libya government.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/tony-blair/10597224/IRA-victims-plan-to-sue-Tony-Blair-over-Libya-conniving.html

Update 24th January 2014

The problems for the Tony Blair increase by the hour!

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/tony-blair/11367104/Dear-Muaamar-Tony-Blairs-letter-to-Colonel-Gaddafi-reveals-collusion-between-UK-and-Libyan-regime.html

LIBYA – The recent destruction in Tripoli of the Karamanli tomb and with it some of Libya’s history.

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News that Salafists have recently destroyed the Karamanli graves in Tripoli came as something of a surprise. To many this event may pass without the comment it deserves. Libya has a rich history and the Libyan people have for too long suffered under the yolk of foreign governments. The Ottomans, for example, ruled Libya from the arrival of the corsair Dragut in 1551 until the Italians superseded them in 1911.
The long course of Ottoman rule in Triopli was interrupted by an extraordinary interlude when a local dynasty seized power and exercised it, nominally on behalf of the Ottoman Sultan, for a century and a quarter. The dynasty was in power when the first war between the USA and Libya occurred.
The first native of Libya to rule Triopli was Ahmed Karamanli. He emerges into history in 1711. Tradition has it that the Karamanli family was founded by a corsair from Caramania, who came to Tripoli with Dragut, married locally and settled in the menshia, that is the cultivated oasis which surrounded the walled city. The tradition, as ever, may be a dramatized version of the truth.
The first Karamanli to seize power in Tripoli was the commanding officer of the Tripoli version of the famous Ottoman ‘feudal’ cavalry, known as the Khuloghlis. The name, incidentally, is derived from the Turkish ‘kul-oghli’, meaning son of slaves. Kuloghli service bore some similarities to feudal knighthood.
In 1711 the official Ottman governor of Tripoli was Khalil Pasha. His rule was shaky and he was opposed by the commanders of his Janissary troops. Eventually one of them, Mahmoud Dey, unseated him and turned his attention to the subjugation of the Kuloghlis commanded by the popular Ahmed Karamanli. It was an error. Ahmed Karamanli, leading a horde of Berbers and the local Kuloghlis, marched into the city and became the Bashaw of Tripoli, Misurata, Benghazi, Derna and Muzurk and nominal overlord of the tribes in the interior. He and his descendants ruled their regency from 1711 to 1835.
The city state of Tripoli was for many years a nest of corsairs. By maintaining a small navy of shallow draft vessels, often manned by Christian renegades, the rulers of Tripoli were able to pursue a lucrative trade in state sponsored piracy. Tripoli, Tunis and Algiers were together known as the Barbary States. History is not without complaints about the Barbary pirates and their depredations around the Mediterranean shores and their preying on merchant vessels. Tripoli was the lesser of the three Barbary States, with the smallest corsair fleet
The state sponsored piracy led to a war with the USA. When the thirteen colonies in America made their famous declaration of independence, they lost the protection of the British Royal Navy. American merchants sent their ships out into the oceans to find as much trade as they could. Those of their ships which ventured into the Mediterranean were harassed by the Barbary Pirates from the pariah states of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli. So bad were the depredations that in 1794 the US Congress authorised the construction of a navy to defend American trade.
An American consul, Cathcart, was stationed in Tripoli and, via him, the US offered the Bashaw an annual payment of 18.000 dollars, plus a present of 4,000 dollars, to buy off the corsairs. The Bashaw, Yusuf Karamanli who ruled from 1795 to 1832, was sure that the fledgling US Navy was too weak to attack Tripoli and therefore decided to provoke the US Congress into making a more generous settlement. He demanded a yearly subsidy of 250,000 dollars and an immediate present of 25,000 dollars. As Cathcart was unable to pay, Karamanli chopped down the flagpole at the American Consulate. This amounted to a declaration of war, so Cathcart left Tripoli. Karamanli’s confidence that the Americans would avoid war and offer him a larger bribe was misplaced.
The US President, Thomas Jefferson, was under some pressure to deal with the Barbary corsairs. He despatched a small navy squadron commanded by Commodore Richard Dale with limiting rules of engagement. There followed a protracted period when the fledgling US Navy patrolled the Mediterranean in an ineffective effort to limit the attacks on its merchant shipping by the corsairs.
In 1803, the US sent a third squadron to the Barbary Coast. It was commanded by Commodore Edward Preble, who had the frigates Constitution and Philadelphia, the brigs Siren and Argus and the schooners Enterprise, Vixen and Nautilus at his disposal.
Preble ordered the frigate Philadelphia, commanded by Captain Bainbridge, to take up station off Tripoli and maintain a blockade. The Philadelphia was accompanied by the schooner Vixen for inshore action. The gales made it impossible for Vixen to maintain her station, so Bainbridge sent her off to patrol around Cape Bon.
Toward the end of October, Bainbridge spotted a number of Tripoli corsairs running for shelter from the gales. On 31st October, he engaged a corsair in the approaches to Tripoli harbour. He had men taking soundings and lookouts posted but he was caught out by the treacherous Kaliusa reef which rises abruptly from the sea bed. The 44 gun Philadelphia hit it at speed with a following wind, and she was stuck fast.
Karamanli’s renegade Scottish admiral, Peter Lyle, saw his chance and sent his corsair fleet out to pound away at the Philadelphia’s rigging. With his guns unable to reply, Bainbridge called a meeting of his officers and decided to surrender. For this, he has been roundly criticised.
The Tripolitanian boats ran alongside and the Philadelphia was boarded and her crew captured. They were landed below the castle at 10 o’clock at night, and were paraded through the city in their undergarments. The officers were imprisoned in the town, but the crewmen were thrown into the notorious dungeons below Tripoli’s castle. The 308 crew members of the Philadelphia were to remain in captivity for a long time.
When the tide turned, the Philadelphia was freed from the Kaliusa reef by the renegade Peter Lyle with a salvage crew. She was towed into Tripoli harbour and remained there as an embarrassment to the US Navy. She also posed a threat to the balance of sea power in the Mediterranean, should she be restored and manned by Karamanli’s navy. This and the incarceration of 308 of her sailors ensured that the USA would have to attempt to destroy the Philadelphia and free the sailors.
In the events which followed, there were legendry feats of heroism performed by American sailors and marines. The great courage shown here was, thus, more important to the history and fighting spirit of the US Navy and US Marine Corps than to the eventual release of the 308 prisoners.
Commodore Preble decided to destroy the Philadelphia. To do this he had to get a crew into Karamanli’s well-defended inner harbour, destroy the ship and escape. He needed good information about the harbour defences, the disposition of the Tripolitanian navy and the winds and tides in the harbour. Much of this he obtained from the prisoner Bainbridge and his officers who, strangely, were permitted to correspond with friends in the US fleet.
Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, USN, volunteered to lead the raid. For this purpose he was given a captured Tripolitania ketch, the Mastico, renamed the Intrepid, and the brig Siren. Decatur and his crew trained rigorously and on the 16th January 1805, after many difficulties, they began their attack. They disguised their ships as merchant vessels from Malta, but the Intrepid was loaded with explosives and fire making material.
At night they brought the Intrepid alongside the Philadelphia, which they boarded, and quickly overcame the watch crew, laid their explosives and combustibles and lit the fuses. They re-joined the Intrepid, but the alarm had been raised. They made their escape through a heavy artillery bombardment, but reached the harbour entrance.
As they left the harbour, the Philadelphia exploded and burst into flames which lit up the castle and the ships in the harbour. Decatur and his crew escaped aboard the Intrepid and the Siren to Syracuse in Sicily, and the admiration of their countrymen.
The sailors remained incarcerated in Tripoli despite a brilliant but unsuccessful amphibious assault on the eastern city of Derna by the fledgling US Marine Corps led by Consul William Eton and Lt Lieutenant Presley N. O’Bannon. USMC. This assault, aimed at what is nowadays know as a regime change, has since been commemorated in the famous line …from the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli…..’ which inspires the US Marine Corps to this day. The sailors were eventually repatriated when the US Government paid a substantial sum of money to Yusuf Karamanli.
When I had the privilege of living in Tripoli friends pointed out a white flag pole on the castle. They told me that it was made from one of the masts salvaged from the USS Philadelphia. Perhaps it was. Is it still there?
John Oakes
4th August 2012
(Paraphrased from Libya – The History of Gaddafi’s Pariah State by John Oakes and published by The History Press in 2011)