Hilltop tribe’s bitterness a challenge for Libya peace effort
Hilltop tribe’s bitterness a challenge for Libya peace effort
The UN launched a new round of negotiations in September to unite a country that splintered along political, ideological and tribal lines during and after the 2011 uprising that unseated Qaddafi.
Western officials hope the talks will pave the way for elections next year and produce a functioning government that could curb militant activity, tackle migrant smuggling and stabilize the nation’s rapidly deteriorating economy.
But conversations with the robed elders of the Warfalla tribe at their meeting in a hall in the former Qaddafi stronghold of Bani Walid show how difficult that will be.
Located 145km southeast of Tripoli, the isolated hilltop town did not accept the fall of Qaddafi in 2011 and held out against rebels two months longer than the capital.
“We are for dialogue... but the UN has never contacted us,” said Muftah Eftais, leader of the council of elders.
Winning over losers of the 2011 revolution will be key to stabilizing the North African country. The Warfalla account for 1.5 million out of six million Libyans, according to the elders council.
“We are represented in all regions. If the UN wants a solution for Libya you need to talk (to us) the tribes,” said Eftais, drawing words of support from the assembled tribesmen.
The UN Libya office said its envoy, Ghassan Salame, met a group of Libyan notables including a Warfalla representative from Bani Walid in late October, and that other members of the UN mission had been in touch with town officials on political, human rights, humanitarian and economic matters.
At least two Warfalla delegates have also taken part in the latest talks in Tunis, a UN official said, but Eftais said the elders did not feel represented by them, highlighting Libya’s multi-layered divisions.
‘We were in paradise’
Bani Walid residents express their loyalty to the old regime much more openly than they did on a Reuters visit to the town in 2014.
In the main square a Qaddafi-era green flag is hoisted next to pictures of “martyrs” killed in the 2011 violence and subsequent fighting.
The elders govern Bani Walid and control their own armed force, in the absence of any national authority or army. Asked if life was better under Qaddafi, several exclaimed: “We were in paradise.”
Cut off from Tripoli, they said their town has suffered even more than others from late public salary payments that have left people across the country struggling to get by, and from what they say are arbitrary detentions for their support of Qaddafi.
“None of us 60 elders have been to Tripoli since 2011 because we fear getting arrested,” Eftais said.
Two elders died in an ambush by unidentified gun men on the way home from peace talks in a town west of Bani Walid.
Some say claims of isolation and discrimination are exaggerated.
“The problem with Bani Walid is that they sided with Qaddafi and Qaddafi lost, and they can’t live with that,” said Abdulrahman Swehli, the head Tripoli’s High State Council who is from the rival town of Misrata.
Economic troubles have deepened in Libya since 2014, when a battle for the capital led to rival parliaments and governments being set up in Tripoli and the east.
A 2015 agreement sought to unite the two camps but instead created a third, UN-selected government, led by Prime Minister Fayez Seraj. It has struggled to make an impact after failing to win approval from military commander Khalifa Haftar, the dominant figure in eastern Libya.
The new UN talks, held in Tunis, were suspended last month as neither side could agree on what role Haftar should play. He is said to have presidential ambitions but is a divisive figure.
The Bani Walid elders say they do not support either camp.
“We are neither with Seraj nor with Haftar. Since 2011 the same people have been... in the GNC (Parliament), government, playing musical chairs,” said Eftais.
The elders want the talks to take place in Libya, under the supervision of Libyans.
After negotiations between rival parliaments, the UN says it is planning a “national conference” that would gather hundreds of representatives from across Libya and make any deal as inclusive as possible, bridging deep communal rifts.
Bani Walid’s enmity with Misrata, a wealthy port city 125 km to the northeast, shows how deep such divisions can run.
Historical hostility between two communities that fought in the early 20th century was reignited when Misrata was shelled for weeks by Qaddafi forces in 2011.
The following year, Bani Walid was attacked by fighters from Misrata and other towns, who daubed slogans on the walls that can still be seen today.
In 2014, Misratans became the dominant force in Tripoli and the main source of military opposition to Haftar.
But Misratan extremist armed groups have been sidelined, while Haftar has managed to consolidate power in the east with help from tribal allies and foreign backers including Egypt and the UAE.
As in other towns that forged alliances with Qaddafi during his 42-year rule, many in Bani Walid are nostalgic.
State employees are often unpaid, schools and hospitals have been run down, and citizens have been caught up in the intermittent conflict.
Several residents said they would vote for the late Qaddafi’s most prominent son, Seif Al-Islam, who made a last stand in Bani Walid before disappearing into the desert. His whereabouts are not clear.
“Life was 100 times better under the old system. We had security, a salary, health care,” said Mohamed Hussein, a 40-year old who was searching with his cousin for iron in the ruins of hotel.
“We are trying to sell the iron for maybe 10 dinars $1.2 on the black market) because our salaries have not come through.”
The hotel has not been rebuilt as a drop in oil revenues due to armed group blockades has left little spare cash in what was once one of the richest countries in the Middle East.
White House Mideast team holds talks with Jordanian king
- The US has been trying to rally support for projects to rescue Gaza’s economy, which has been weakened by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, while continuing to isolate Hamas
- Jared Kushner’s team plans stops in Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. No talks with the Palestinians are scheduled, though the Americans have left the door open to meeting with them
AMMAN: President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, kicked off a swing through the Middle East on Tuesday, meeting with Jordan’s king as part of a broader effort to lay the groundwork for an expected Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
Kushner and White House envoy Jason Greenblatt held talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah, a key US ally.
A White House statement said the talks focused on US-Jordan cooperation, the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the US efforts “to “facilitate peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.”
US officials have said their peace plan is near completion and could be released this summer. But it faces resistance from the Palestinians, who have cut off ties since Trump recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December and moved the US Embassy in Israel to the holy city last month. The Palestinians, who seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital, accuse the US of siding with Israel in the most sensitive issue of their decades-long conflict.
Kushner’s team also plans stops in Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. No talks with the Palestinians are scheduled, though the Americans have left the door open to meeting with them.
The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip for an independent state. Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Mideast war. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and Hamas militants seized control of the territory two years later.
The US has been trying to rally support for projects to rescue Gaza’s economy, which has been weakened by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, while continuing to isolate Hamas. The US, Israel and Western allies shun Hamas as a terrorist group. Details of the plan have not been released, but Palestinians fear they will get little more than a symbolic foothold in Jerusalem. They also fear that aid to Gaza will help strengthen Hamas’ control over the territory.
Jordan also has a stake in east Jerusalem, serving as the custodian of major Muslim and Christian shrines there. Jerusalem’s walled Old City, captured and annexed by Israel in 1967, is home to Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites.
Abdullah has also rejected Trump’s moves in Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to relinquish any part of the city.
Netanyahu traveled to Amman on Monday for a surprise meeting with Abdullah, telling the king that Israel remains committed to the status quo of the holy sites in Jerusalem.
Abdullah told Netanyahu that the fate of Jerusalem must be determined in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and that a solution should be based on establishing a Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital, on lands Israel captured in 1967.
Palestinian officials fear the Trump administration plan will leave them with a mini-state in the Gaza Strip, parts of the West Bank and a foothold in Jerusalem. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has said he will reject any plan being floated by the Trump team, arguing that the US has forfeited its role as mediator because of decisions seen as pro-Israel.