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Black people face ethnic cleansing in Libya

WHEN SIDDIQ Tag-Eldine Moussa left Sudan to work in eastern Libya, he never thought he would end up losing all he had striven for.

But earlier this year, when anti-Gaddafi forces clashed with fighters loyal to long time Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, the furniture maker watched his life’s work literally go up in smoke as his workshop was burnt to the ground.

Moussa was left with just the clothes on his back – and a deep scar in his heart.

“Libyans did this,” he cried in anguish, shaking and pointing at the few scraps of cloth left in his gutted workshop.

Although the attack was carried out by anti-Gaddafi forces, Moussa believes that the main reason for the attack was the colour of his skin.

“They are against us because we’re black. Because of the colour of our skin, they think we’re mercenaries (hired by Gaddafi) but we’re not,” he said.

LUCKY

Moussa says he was lucky to get away with his life. And according to reports that have surfaced, he is.

More and more accounts are emerging from Libya about increasing numbers of black Libyans and Sub-Saharan African migrants being attacked and killed by rebel forces in a country hit by chaos.

Video clips have been posted on sites like You Tube showing blacks in Libya being attacked, jailed and even lynched.

Some of the footage that has been posted shows a string of dead bodies, evidence say campaigners that a form of ethnic cleansing is taking place.

Witnesses to the attacks in historically black cities such Tawargha in western Libya, have told reporters some horrifying stories.

“We had 70 to 80 people from Chad working for our company” one witness told BBC reporters. “They were cut dead with pruning shears and axes. The attackers were saying ‘You are providing troops for Gaddafi.’ The Sudanese were also massacred. We saw it for ourselves.”

Early last month, human rights group Amnesty International who visited Libya on a fact finding mission confirmed that attacks on black people were happening.


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A spokesperson for the charity told The Voice “Amnesty’s report show that when Al-Bayda, Benghazi, Derna, Misratah and other cities first fell under the control of the NTC (National Transitional Council) in February, anti-Gaddafi forces carried out house raids, killings and other violent attacks against suspected mercenaries, either sub-Saharan Africans or black Libyans. It is a war crime for any party in a conflict to kill prisoners.”

On September 13, Amnesty International called on the NTC to do more to protect black Libyans following reports that members of the Tawargha tribe were being detained, threatened and beaten on suspicion of fighting for Gaddafi forces.

Amnesty International said that some Tawarghas were detained in Tripoli and were made to kneel facing the wall and then beaten with sticks and whips.

“Others have simply vanished after being arrested at checkpoints or taken from hospitals by armed revolutionaries (thuwwar),” said the spokesperson.

GUIDELINES

The NTC has since issued guidelines calling for better treatment of those detained.

Amnesty further outlined more atrocities against black and other groups by both Gaddafi and anti-Gaddafi forces in Libya in a 107-page September 13 report called The Battle for Libya: Killings, Disappearances and Torture.

“In addition to Tawarghas, other black Libyans including those from the central Sabha district as well as Sub-Saharan Africans, continue to be at particular risk of reprisals and arbitrary arrests, on the basis of their skin colour and widespread reports that al-Gaddafi (pro-Gaddafi) forces used African mercenaries to repress supporters of the NTC” the spokesperson said.

For example, reports have emerged of Nigerian migrants held captive while they were looking for jobs. Other Nigerians have had to flee from Sabha for fear of being attacked, reports said.

Many black Libyans now live in fear after leaving their homes to escape attack.


THREATENED: Ordinary black workers are being mistaken for Gaddafi loyalists

One woman, who has been living in a refugee camp with her husband and five children, told Amnesty International she was terrified of going home. “If we go back to Tawargha, we will then be at the mercy of the Misratah thuwwar,” she said. “When the thuwwar entered our town in mid-Ramadan [mid-August] and shelled it, we fled just carrying the clothes on our backs. I don't know what happened to our homes and belongings. Now I am here in this camp, my son is ill and I am too afraid to go to the hospital in town. I don't know what will happen to us now."

WITNESSES

Other witnesses in the refugee camp recounted the terror of having a group of armed men drive into the camp and arrest 14 men.

“No one knew of their fate or whereabouts,” Amnesty International said. “Another woman at the camp said her husband has been missing since he left the camp to run an errand in central Tripoli, about a week ago. She fears he might have been detained.”

Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s North Africa researcher added: “The NTC must put an end to such abuses, particularly against vulnerable groups like the Tawarghas, and send a clear message that Libya is no longer a place where torture will be tolerated.

“There is no question that al-Gaddafi forces were involved in war crimes and serious human rights violations in Misratah, and that some Tawarghas fought alongside al-Gaddafi forces.

“But anyone responsible should be brought to justice in fair trials not dragged out of hospital beds on the assumption that all Tawarghas are 'killers' and 'mercenaries'. The whole population should not have to suffer," she said.

Recently, the African Union (AU) raised the issue of the killings, which observers have claimed do not appear to have a high priority for those congratulating the interim Libyan government or pledging to help the beleaguered country rebuild.

“We need clarification because the NTC seems to confuse black people with mercenaries,” AU chairman Jean Ping said in a statement. “They are killing normal workers."

These reports are worrying for Africans living in Britain such as John Bondzie. The 36-year-old Ghanaian is now worried for a friend who lives there.

“My friend is working out there at the moment but he has totally disappeared and I don’t know where he is now” said the sales assistant, who spent several years working in Libya before moving to south London. “I have been calling him but I have not been able to get in touch with him,”

Bondzie said the upheaval in Libya has heightened existing racial tensions there. “I worked in Libya for three years as a mason and it was fine. If they like you, there’s no problems. But if they don’t like you, from my observation they treat you very badly. They wouldn’t even like to see you. Even before, they didn’t like the blacks. The blacks don’t have power in Libya.”

ANGER

Incensed at what she saw, Voice reader Funmi Ade began bombarding media outlets, the United Nations, local government officials and anyone who would hear her, calling for an investigation and help for suffering blacks in Libya.

She says the response to her plea to raise awareness about the plight of black Libyans has been disappointing, made even more so when she saw Prime Minister David Cameron recently congratulating Libya’s transitional government during a September 15 visit to the country with no sign of the issue being discussed.

“I think that we need to hold the Government complicit in this,” Ade, a management tutor, told The Voice. “The Government is responsible for what’s happening to black people in Libya by backing those who are doing this.

“They need to be ensuring that it stops immediately. The issue is that the mainstream media isn't covering it. It’s either not being portrayed in the correct light or it’s a deliberate misinformation. The ethnic cleansing is not being highlighted and they’re being systematically targeted and barbarically massacred.”

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