Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes

MISURATANS AND THE BLACK TRIBE OF TAWERGHA. (A fourth in the Libyan Tribes series).UPDATE 30th January 2015

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In Libya today Tawergha is a ghost town 38 kilometres from Misurata on the road to Sirte. In August of 2011, Misuratan militias broke out of the brutal siege of their city by Colonel Gaddafi’s forces and attacked their neighbours in Tawergha on whom the late dictator had once lavished money and favour. Accused of crimes against Misuratan civilians during the siege, all 35,000 or so residents of Tawergha fled and their town was systematically looted and destroyed by vengeful Misuratans. (Gadaffi’s forces had laagered in Tawergha whilst conducting the siege of Misurata and some of the young men of the town joined them in the fighting. Accusations of rape have been levied at them, though not yet substantiated.)

Tawergha was mostly populated with black Libyans, a legacy of its 19th-century origins as a transit town in the trans-Saharan slave trade. Now, on the gates of many their deserted and vandalized homes Misuratans have scrawled the words “slaves” and “negroes.” (John Wright in his book, The Trans Saharan Slave Trade, suggests that Misurata may have survived as a quiet, unmolested, slaving centre until the very end of the 19th century, though how the descendents of slaves came to form a community 38 kilometers southeast of Misurata and survive as a clan or tribe for so many years is a mystery.)

There are disturbing allegations circulating in the media. For example, Sam Dagher of the Wall Street Journal reported on 18th September 2011 that Mahmoud Jibril, the Libyan National Transitional Council Prime Minister, made this statement at a public meeting at the Misurata town hall: “Regarding Tawergha, my own viewpoint is that nobody has the right to interfere in this matter except the people of Misurata.”…..“This matter can’t be tackled through theories and textbook examples of national reconciliation like those in South Africa, Ireland and Eastern Europe.” Sam Dagher himself witnessed the burning of more than a dozen homes in the town.

Temporary sites for displaced Tawergha have grown up and still remain in Libya. The UNHCR reports that some 20,000 of them have been registered in sites in Tripoli, Benghazi, Tarhouna and other smaller towns across the country. Another 7,000 or so were discovered in the south, near the town of Sebha. There must be some who remain unaccounted for – either staying with relatives or friends or hiding in the desert, afraid to emerge.
According to a report in the Libya Herald dated 8th November 2012 about eleven thousand displaced Tawergha people are currently in seven unsatisfactory camps in Benghazi where the unsanitary conditions are aggravated by rain and cold. Concern is growing that Tawergha children are the victims of discrimination as schools and universities are refusing to accept them.

The Libyan Herald report also states that Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the former president of the National Transitional council, and interim Prime Minister Abdurrahim Al-Kib told the Tawerghans that it is still not the right time for them to return to their town since the authorities are not yet in a position to guarantee their safety. Their future is bleak. Today the vandalised town of Tawergha is surrounded by armed militiamen from Misurata. They are tasked to ensure that no one returns. For them Tawergha no longer exists.

(This disconcerting report dated 3rd November 2017 in the British newspaper, the Guardian, is strongly recommended to readers of this post but I ask you to note that there are some acts of appalling brutality described therein.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/03/revealed-male-used-systematically-in-libya-as-instrument-of-war )

John Oakes

For books by John Oakes see… (USA): http://www.amazon.com/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 ….. (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

Update 28th January 2013
It seems that Misurata is still largely in the hands of militias.
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/01/28/misrata-clamps-down-weapons-ban/

Update 20th March 2013
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH EXPRESSES CONCERN ABOUT TAWERGHANS AND ADDS: “Foreign governments that intervened militarily in Libya under a UN Security Council resolution to protect civilians forcefully condemned violations by the Gaddafi government but have failed to challenge effectively the ongoing abuses against Tawerghans and others”.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/03/20/hwr-calls-on-libya-to-stop-revenge-crimes-against-tawerghans-wants-un-sanctions-against-those-involved%e2%80%a8/

Update 18th May 2013
A mass grave has been discovered in Tawergha.
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/05/17/vigil-in-misrata-after-discovery-of-mass-grave/

Update 21st June 2013

Libyan PM tells Tawerghans not to take unilateral action and return to their home town until issues are settled concerning their perceived support for Gaddafi when Misurata was under siege. It is world refugee week!:

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/06/20/dont-go-back-to-tawergha-yet-zeidan-tells-its-people/

Update 24th June 2013

Tawergans agree to postpone their return to their home town:
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/06/24/crisis-difused-as-tawergha-return-delayed/

Update 2nd October 2013

This – about Tawerghans today is definitely worth your attention:

http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/aljazeeraworld/2013/10/road-tawergha-201310191859343221.html

Update 30th January 2015

This out today and hopeful

An UNSMIL statement reads as follows:
“In line with the positive environment that prevailed at the meeting [in Geneva], the UN facilitated an agreement between the municipalities of Misrata and Tawergha on the following points:

Establishment of a committee from the local council of Tawergha and whoever they call upon to help in visiting the prisons in the City of Misrata and to receive assurances about their conditions, and to review with the responsible authorities the charges against them and their legal status.
The right of the people of Tawergha to return to their land through the establishment of a committee to discuss the mechanism to achieve that on the ground and to remove all obstacles and prepare all the appropriate conditions.

There was agreement that UNSMIL will follow up this process in cooperation with the two sides.”

Update 20th June 2017

This in the Libya Herald today:

Tripoli, 19 June 2017:

A new Presidency Council-approved agreement on the right of Tawerghans to return to their deserted hometown has been signed by Misratan and Tawerghan civic leaders, including  Misrata-Tawergha Reconciliation Committee chairman Yousef Zarzah, Tawergha local council leader Abdulrahman Shakshak, and Misrata mayor Mohamed. The agreement was signed in Tripoli at the Prime Ministry office in the presence of Presidency Council (PC) head Faiez Serraj and his deputy Ahmed Maetig, himself from Misrata, and the minister for displaced persons, Yousef Jalalah.

In a brief speech, Serraj has promised to provide all required infrastructure services to Tawergha.

From his side, Maetig said that PC would supervise the return of residents so that they were safe and secure.

“The agreement has bough to an end long sessions of talks which been taken a great deal of time. Now we are looking ahead for better future,” he said.

However, the reconciliation agreement, while speaking of the Tawerghans returning as well as of compensation for both communities for damages suffered, makes no mention of a date when they can go home.

It follows a statement last week by Tawerghan civil society activists that they intend to return to the town this Thursday and from there issue a call to the rest of the more than 40,000 Tawerghans living in camps across Libya to come back to their hometown.

There are suggestions that, far from making that happen, today’s signing in the presence of Serraj is an attempt to again delay such a return. There is still, in Misrata, a minority opposed to it ever happening.

For his part, though, State Council president Abdulrahman Sewehli, also from Misrata, has given his full backing to the Tawerghans’ right to return, saying that it was high time they did so, and yesterday announced on his Twitter feed that “key steps” to bring it about were “coming soon” – a clear reference to today’s agreement.

“Kudos to Libyan patriots who genuinely care about reconciliation through healing the nation’s wounds”, he tweeted.

While commending today’s agreement, Human Rights Watch has called for it  to be implements quickly.

 
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