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FACTDROP: Libya: 'The Fall and Purge of Tawergha'


Libya: 'The Fall and Purge of Tawergha'

Πηγή: libyancivilwar
Sep. 18 2011

The City

Tawergha (Arabic: تاورغاء)‎ lies about 30-40 miles south of Misrata/Misurata, along the western coast of the Gulf of Sirte. Its population is unclear (10,000?) and recently changed (to zero?). From the Wikipedia entry (which uses a different and common spelling - "Taworgha" - and the Arabic cited), it's a town that's occupied by an unstated number of people of unknown type. [1] A Euronews dispatch filming a clash there in May called it a "no man's land" between rebel and loyalist areas. [2]

Wiki says its name means "the green island" in Berber." [1] But another source, the rebel outreach site Free Misurata says rather "the name of Taworgha was used by Misrataies to describe the black population in that area, because of the dark skin they have just like the real ancient Tuareg." [3] Indeed, it's inhabited mostly by black-skinned people originally from further south, apparently a remnant of the slave trade, a significant factor considering known anti-black sentiments in the rebel camp. As they explain:

The origin of this black population in North Africa gos back to the roman empire days , when the slavery trade was a good businesses by bringing the blacks from meddle Africa to export them from Misratah port ( was known as Kayvalai Bromentoriom )* to old Rome.

The sick who can not make it to the port and the long trip by ship was left behind at that spot, which is known for its swamps and jungles ( Libya was called the “Bread Basket of Europe”, because of the moderate climate and fertility of soil during the Roman time, and was one of the main exporters of grains to Rome ) [3]
Otherwise, the Wikipedia entry desribed Tawergha as "a city in Libya that followed the public administrative jurisdiction of the city of Misrata [...] during the rule of Muammar Gaddafi." It also noted that "control of Taworgha helped the Romans coordinate control of Libya." [1] By this, Tawergha is strategically important, and that's basically part of Misrata/Misurata anyway, fit to be done with as the people in charge there like.

Misrata - the nation's third largest city and a major regional port - had been under at least partial rebel control since February. But loyalist elements hung on in and around the city, putting it famously under a state of deadly prolonged siege. Some of this came from the black "Taureg" town that also served as a "green island" of government support.

The Preludes / Priming the Hate Machine

Now, there is a danger in examining this of placing too much emphasis on race. The tactical threat alone is cited, and does seem compelling. But racism emerges, time and again, in unsettlingly blatant ways. Free Misurata explains the back-story of how the black Tawerghans became a wicked race (again, [sic] implied throughout. It's perfectly readable):

... Gaddafi started to give them power by using them as personal body guards and brain wash them so they over estimated them selves ,their resources and abilities. [...] because Gaddafi just used them and never improved their live style, there was always some kind of jealousy when they compare them selves to prospers Misratah. [3]Patronizing suspected jealousy is nothing new for lynch mob types. As Misratan rebels see it, this envy, the regime brainwashing, and whatever other factors led to a fall from grace by their neighbors. This was testified to repeated rocket attacks from their hamlet, occasional raids into the city with their black troops featured, sometimes re-taking portions of Misrata in bloody battles. This is to be expected as the government tried to restore order, but as it was remembered anyway, the Tawerghans' actions stepped far beyond the norm. Again, Free Misurata:

When Gaddafi asked them to attack Misratah……they did what evil is ashamed to do. [...] When Gaddafi forces entered Misratah from the eastern part with the help of residents of Taworgha , whom are of a black descent, they made what evil is ashamed to do, killing, loathing, rape, and destroying the homes by bulldozers.

After they entered the eastern part of Misratah they have forced the families to flee eastward but not to westward, because they want to use them as a human shield.

”Taworgha stabbed Misratah in the back”It might seem understandable to many - you can't leave crimes like that unanswered. The systematic mass rape aspect in particular is frequently called on, supported by various evidence like alleged cell phone footgae seized from Gaddafi troops. But the only evidence shared with the outside world was the clearly coerced verification of two young captives taken, apparently, on one of their raids on Tawergha.

It was in late May this was broadcast by the BBC, from prisoners still wearing "the same filthy, bloodstained army fatigues they were captured in two weeks ago." [4] Amnesty international's team spoke with both of these kids and found their stories inconsistent and unreliable, so probably coached by their captors. [5] Going out of one's way to create a myth that will enrage the fighters in advance and encourage war crimes, if that's what happened here, is highly unethical to say the least.

The Misratans also suspected the invaders from the south had help from within their walls, and their revenge started close to home. A neighborhood was purged, as the Wall Street Journal reported

Before the siege, nearly four-fifths of residents of Misrata's Ghoushi neighborhood were Tawergha natives. Now they are gone or in hiding, fearing revenge attacks by Misratans, amid reports of bounties for their capture. [6]In early-to-mid-May, they started making public vows against Tawergha itself. Sam Dagher reported for the Wall Street Journal, in a now-famous and rare article, how regional rebel Commander Ibrahim al-Halbous eerily said that "Tawergha no longer exists. There is only Misrata," while encouraging the residents who oppose them to all leave. With less authority but greater menace Dagher noted some rebel graffiti left out on the road to Tawergha - "brigade for purging slaves, black skin." [6]

A mid-May discussion between rebel fighters and tribal elders was filmed in the desert, posted later by VSMRK. Elderly black men in traditional garb listened with worry and muted disgust as young Arab thugs in baseball caps explained things [in Arabic of course, so I can't follow], with hand gestures of leveling and totality indicating that Halbus' prescription was for real. At the end, an ominous dust storm blew in and the video stopped. [7]

Would they help the people "liberate themselves," or purge the whole town? A bad sign was the NATO bombings of reported Gaddafi sites around Tawergha in the following weeks, likely phoned in by Misrata rebels. In late June one strike at least killed many civilians in the usual unconfirmed way. According to some reports, sixteen were killed, including a whole family, when a NATO bomb hit the public market. Video shared there shows at least one baby was among the dead. [8]

But still the question of the town's continued life was allowed to hover through July and beyond, as Misrata both absorbed and dished out more attacks.

The Battle

Wikipedia cites a start to the Battle of Tawergha on August 11, and end on the 13th, which seems accurate enough by what else I've seen. No mention is made of forced expulsions or other human rights abuses, but that's just a serious but widely-repeated omission. [9] In a video dispatch for al Jazeera English, Andrew Simmons speaks with the commander on site, Ali Ahmed al Sheh. The townspeople were used by government forces as "human shields," says al Sheh. This at first limited their fighting ability, leaving them only able to use rifles against tanks until all the people were cleared. [10]

However, a rebel video of August 11 goes against this. It shows Freedom Fighters using artillery and truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns and firing long-range rockets from the start. It also shows them in city center, and it seems pretty empty already. There are no cars but for one that's looted, and no sign of non-rebel life for several minutes.

Allahu Akbar is repeated approximately 14,000 times before a shocking segment of a Gaddafi loyalist is shown. Amidst a battle with holdouts on the outskirts, one is taken. He's apparently military, his head badly burnt, forehead charred and peeling, caked in blood, hair melted, ear lacerated. His comrades are probably dead, and he must be in great pain or great shock, but is standing and alert. He seems to have been a light-skinned black man to begin with, but he is now mostly charcoal black, and the rebels are shouting and laughing and jabbing him threteningly with their fingers, rather than getting him medical help. [11]

There is an August 13 report for BBC News by Orla Guerrin on the threats posed to Misrata, leaving them "numbed by loss and trauma." [12] The report made no mention of fight they were then waging, in the numbed state, to take Tawergha, and no mention of Tawergha at all. Yet the same day, she was there reporting on the battle just then wrapping up, in a video report that made no mention of the purge, or inhabitants, at all. Rebel fighter Khalid Bashir said he would sleep easier, with his children safer, after the battle won here and the threat somehow eliminated. Former government positions shown, "abandoned at speed," she said. "They ran in a hurry," she said, after having "dug in here for a long stay." [13]

She mentioned continued fighting against "pockets" of Gaddafi fighters in the city, but made no mention of non-combatant inhabitants, as if the town were an empty stage to fight battles in. As Human Rights Investigations put it, Guerin's reporting, "disgracefully, failed to give the ethnic cleansing context." She made this omission "despite actually interviewing Ibrahim al-Halbous," the commander who had first prophesized what was then happening under this reporter's nose. [14]

The Purge Realized

Cover stories and denial often being evidence of a crime, it's interesting that a fighter named Fatateh told the Telegraph they didn't have to remove anyone, and also gave them an earlier date. "Some [homes] had been taken over by pro-Gaddafi militias after the civilians had fled," he told them, "and a two-day battle had ensued with rebel forces on the 10th and 11th of August." [15]

Andrew Simmons, reporting for Al Jazeera English on the 12th, gave us one of the only visual glimpses we've been allowed of even the edges of the promised purge. Simmons said the rebels "took this town by storm in what appears to be a highly co-ordinated operation with NATO," and were now generally relocating the people. One black man in traditional clothing, his left leg splattered with blood, is carried gently - through leering crowd - to somewhere else. It'ssaid he "engaged them in combat." I would, and he may have. [10]

The rabbles were on nice behavior on account of the camera; nothing morbid or terrible was shown, just the rather ambiguous liberation of another Libyan city. It comes across as slightly troubling, but not as horrific as it might have been. As Simmons described his view, at the tail end:

"They search from house to house, the flags of Gaddafi's Libya on every one. None of his men are left here, only this woman, an Egyptian, terrified. "You're safe," the fighters say. "No one will touch you." "I'm afraid, she tells them. Leave me in my house." She explains that she has nine children under 12, and they ran away during the attack.
The opposition says civilians are being evacuated, and handed over to the red cross." [10]She's not allowed to stay at home, and leaves with them for Misrata, hoping to find her many children there (her story is presented as fishy). Mr. Simmons' follow-up tweet confirms it with a nice spin, and clarifying that Red Cross is really the Red Crescent, and giving a rare quantification of "hundreds"of victims:

Hundreds of civilians evacuated from Tawergha to Misrata away from Gaddafi thugs. Red crescent helping them now #libya via @simmjazeera [16]
But it was al Jazeera's camera that captured rebels trying, with visible worry, to prevent the filming of a locked freight container filled with some of the "freed" "human shields." While this might have been just a brief detention, it might have been for the mass-relocation and even puts an image in one's mind of people as freight to be shipped out, and perhaps that was exactly the idea. Misrata, where they were generally taken, is a major port, after all.

This makes it relevant to bring up a line of worry traced out in the post refugees and human trafficking. At least 480 people, mostly black Africans, vanished on the two ships carrying them away from Libya and its problems. One at least was captained by a known human smuggler, perhaps of the type that had struck secret deals with the rebel TNC. And again, the rebels coming to this town are on record thinking of their prey as slaves, sub-human rapists, perhaps beasts who must be put on a leash or sold to someone far way who will do it. This is not a promising combination as far as human rights is concerned.

Whatever the exact scale and nature of it, this is how they do it: "leave your homes, don't come back 'til we say it's okay. You're liberated from being in our way." In this way, they quickly, within a week, battled their way to being in cities from which they could move on Tripoli and its million inhabitans, hoping to finally make the people of all Libya safe from being in the way of the NATO foot soldiers and the free market future. In addition to a probable war crime, or a cluster of them, the purge of Tawergha was an embarrassing tacit admission their "popular uprising" wasn't so popular everywhere, and some parts of Libya could only be "liberated for the people" by being emptied of their actual people.

No Camps, Just Expulpsion

Concentration camps in Tawergha were sort-of alleged, by an over-eager critic of the rebels called "Antiwar Soldier" (AS) in a Twitter discussion with a rebel sympathizer, or even fighter, named "Elwakshi" (E) - trying to justify the cleansing of Tawergha. [17]

AS: why was Zliten not "evacuated" and Tawergha was?
E: Tawergha ppl invaded Misurata and did many against human crimes but Zliten ppl did not.

AS: and women and children as well? How would you react is all Misrata was cleansed the same way?
E: we did the right action, i think if this happen in other place they will be murdered totally but we are wise ppl

AS: What will happen to them next?
E: We gave them water and food we supply them by petrol, we just want to protect our self

AS: so you put all civilian population indiscriminately in camps to protect yourself? This was done before in WW2
E: no we did not do, we ask him to look for other place to live, Libya is a wide land country and they can find elsewhere plac

AS: So it would be okay if Misratans were asked to look for another place in Libya?
E: If we do so it is ok

In this man's mind, killing off Tawergha was understandable, just not wise. Forcing a whole city to clear out is a nice compromise, they decided. He also said "We are in war now and it is urgent for us and for them as well." Yes, the urgency: NATO was getting impatient with their foot soldiers, and wanted Tripoli taken before six months was up - September 19. They needed to deliver the victories, start taking cities quickly and get ahold of Tripoli within about a month. So the abuses commenced to make each taking more brutal and more final. As NATO's assistance with Zliten, including bombing 33 children at Majer on August 9, they were willing to lead by example, and it was eagerly followed.

A Mass Grave

This story remains vague (but it has its own post here), but a mass grave was reoported is some minor detail by the UK Daily Mail.

Libyan rebels claim to have found a mass grave containing the bodies of 150 civilians [...] The spokesman said: 'We discovered a mass grave containing 150 bodies in Tawargha. These are the corpses of civilians kidnapped from Misrata by Gaddafi’s loyalists.' [...] He claimed in addition to the grave, troops had discovered video 'showing kidnappers cutting the throats of people'. [18]Al Jazeera's Simmons had a late look at the site, and could confirm only one victim, beheaded and rotting." (see link above) "Slaughtered by forces loyal to Colonel Gadaffi," they were, as the Mail put it. Not an encouraging charge, especially considering we're dealing with a "discovery" made by rebels after they took the city. Be skeptical of their description of the victims as their own, kidnapped and beheaded by their enemy. I'd be willing to bet money nearly all of the victims were black-skinned, all locals, and slaughtered by the rebels in their unchecked, self-inflicted rage.

The Purge Goes Mobile

On the day of the battle's end, Imazighen Libya posted an old video of two injured black men captured in the battle for Qawalish, early July. One is a young black man, and another skinny, older black man with a gray beard. One was given as an African mercenary, the other a "mercenary from Tawergha." One of a type used even outside Misurata to crush the rebellion. [19] All Libyan rebel sympathizers, especially extremely racist ones like this (see here), understand why Tawergha and its people have to go.

Now in Tripoli, Tawerghans who fled there are disappearing or hiding as rebels, some right from Misrata, have caught up with them, perhaps remembering those bounties. The UKTelegraph reported:

Even fleeing is not, it seems, enough to save you. Tawargas have also been arrested at checkpoints, seized from hospitals and detained on the street. "They are really afraid. They have nowhere to go," said Ms [Diana Eltahawy, a researcher for Amnesty International who is currently in Libya].

On Aug 29, Amnesty says it saw a Tawarga patient at the Tripoli Central Hospital being taken by three men, one of them armed, for "questioning in Misurata". Amnesty was also told that at least two other Tawarga men had vanished after being taken for questioning from Tripoli hospitals.
One 45-year-old flight dispatcher and his uncle were arrested by armed rebels while out shopping in the al-Firnaj area of Tripoli on 28 August. They were taken to the Military Council headquarters at Mitiga Airport just east of the capital. The men told Amnesty they were beaten with the butt of a rifle and received death threats. Both were held for several days in Mitiga and are still detained in Tripoli.
Many Tawargas are now cowering in makeshift camps around Tripoli. But even there, they are not safe. In one camp, a group of armed men drove in and arrested about a dozen Tawargas. Their fate is still unknown. Another woman at the camp said her husband left the camp to run an errand in central Tripoli, about a week ago. She hasn't seen him since. [15]A More Sentimental View, Dashed
Free Misrata's article cited above includes glowing reports of "freeing" seventeen families and bringing them back to Misrata. "[S]ome of them are known to be a pro Gaddafi , and now they say” we ware miss leaded and we ware wrong, thank you for saving our lives” While the writer found the purge fully necessary and mostly good, they noted with unexpected sensitivity that it wasn't all good:

Passing back Taworgh , it looked like a ghost city , no one is there , all the inhabitants fled fearing the revenge of Misratah people, but in reality no in Misratah thought of revenge…these where our people and will stay our people.

May be for the time being my advice to them is to return home and stay home, because when Gaddafi fall all standards will change and they may will be in danger where they stay now.

Later when all is settled and live is back to normal they can drive to Misratah again and seek jobs and work.

This was a black page in our history , and at the end of the day we are all on family, and welcome to any one wants to live under the flag of freedom and united free Libya.The WSJ's Dagher noted in May that although "the rebel's political leadership says it will take steps to avoid reprisals if they capture the town," others more hands-on were "calling for the expulsion of Tawerghans from the area," or even "banning Tawergha natives from ever working, living or sending their children to schools in Misrata." [6] Dagher returned to the city in September to follow up, writing for the WSJ on effective NTC prime minister Mahmoud Jibril's approval of a more permanent purge. As Human Rights Investigations reports in Tawargha – the final solution, the earlier promise just didn't hold

The final chapter is now being written for Tawargha, as reported by Sam Dagher of the Wall Street Journal. Mahmoud Jibril, the NTC prime minister, rubber-stamped the wiping of the town off the map at the Misrata town hall:
“Regarding Tawergha, my own viewpoint is that nobody has the right to interfere in this matter except the people of Misrata. This matter can’t be tackled through theories and textbook examples of national reconciliation like those in South Africa, Ireland and Eastern Europe,” he added as the crowd cheered with chants of “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is greatest.”

The WSJ goes on to report:
Now, rebels have been torching homes in the abandoned city 25 miles to the south. Since Thursday, The Wall Street Journal has witnessed the burning of more than a dozen homes in the city Col. Gadhafi once lavished with money and investment. On the gates of many vandalized homes in the country’s only coastal city dominated by dark-skinned people, light-skinned rebels scrawled the words “slaves” and “negroes."
“We are setting it on fire to prevent anyone from living here again,” said one rebel fighter as flames engulfed several loyalist homes. [20]The UK Telegraph reported:

This pro-Gaddafi settlement has been emptied of its people, vandalised and partly burned by rebel forces.
"We have met Tawargas in detention, taken from their homes simply for being Tawargas," said Diana Eltahawy, a researcher for Amnesty International who is currently in Libya. "They have told us that they have been forced to kneel and beaten with sticks." [15]As for the rest? The Telegraph was told this, in no unclear terms:

"We gave them thirty days to leave," said Abdul el-Mutalib Fatateth, the officer in charge of the rebel garrison in Tawarga, as his soldiers played table-football outside one of the empty apartment blocks. "We said if they didn't go, they would be conquered and imprisoned. Every single one of them has left, and we will never allow them to come back." [15]And David Enders confirms for McClatchy papers:

In Tawergha, the rebel commander said his men had orders not to allow any of the residents back in. He also said that unexploded ordnance remained in the area, though none was readily apparent.

Most homes and buildings in the area appeared to have been damaged in the fighting, and a half-dozen appeared to have been ransacked. The main road into the village was blocked with earthen berms. Signs marking the way to the village appeared to have been destroyed.

On the only sign remaining "Tawergha" had been painted over with the words "New Misrata."

On one wall in Tawergha, graffiti referred to the town's residents as "abeed," a slur for blacks. [21]Ah well, they had some nicer sentiments at one time, and it's the thought of only a semi-final solution that matters. They really tried their best. Now only the last bounties and remaining scattered heads remain before their agreed solution is finalized. Incidentally, at least one black man so far, a patient at Abu Salim trauma hospital in Tripoli, had his actual head removed.

World leaders: How's that campaign to stop Gaddafi's "genocide" against "the Libyan people" coming along?

[1] Wikipedia. Taworgha. Last edited August 22, 2011.
[2] Euronews. "Libya: fighting in Tawarga." May 19, 2011.
[3] Free Misurata. English articles. Taworgha has become a ghost city, and FF free 70 families at Alhish 160km to the east. August 18, 2011.
[6] Dagher, Sam. "Libya City Torn by Tribal Feud"
[7] Posted by VSMRK, August 17.
[10] Al Jazeera English, Andrew Simmons reporting, August 12.
[11] Posted by VSMRK, Sept.12.
[12] Guerin, Orla. "Libya's rebel-held Misrata numbed by loss and trauma." August 13, 2011.
[13] BBC News video report, August 13.
[14] HRI Mark. Tawergha no longer exists, only Misrata. Human rights investigations. August 13, 2011.
[15] Gilligan, Andrew. "Gaddafi's ghost town after the loyalists retreat." The Telegraph. September 11, 2011.
[20] HRI Mark. "Tawargha-the Final Solution." Human Rights Investigations. September 14, 2011.
[21] Enders, David. Empty village raises concerns about fate of black Libyans. McClatchy. September 13.

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