Tripoli, April 1: Zuara has been on high alert since Saturday night when forces from the neighbouring town of Al-Jmail attacked and . . .[restrict]captured 25 Zuara men on their way to Zuara from Nalut. The captured Zuarans were working for the Interior Ministry to protect the border area and had papers from the ministry.
The kidnapping took place in Al-Assah near the border with Tunisia and the men are now being held back in Al-Jamil, according to Ayoob Sufayan from the Zuara Media Centre. He said that five Zuarans who had managed to escape had reported that the Al-Jmail forces were as many as 1,000 strong. They were carrying green Qaddafi-era flags and called the Zuarans “rats” — the term of abuse used by Qaddafi and his supporters last year to describe those supporting the revolution.
A team from the interior ministry had gone to try and negotiate their release, he said.
Reports of the attack have also appeared on Twitter.
Zuaran forces have been involved since last year in manning the Ras Jedir border crossing and patrolling the border area.
According to Sufayan, negotiations involving a well-respected military figure from Sabratha had so far secured the release of one Zuaran who had recently had an operation. He added that “if negotiations do not succeed by today, there will be fighting”. Revolutionaries (“thuwar”) from Zawiya had gone to help Zuara, he said adding that Zuara would take back its thuwar by force if necessary.
During the night there were also reports on Twitter that traffic heading towards Tunisia had been stopped outside Zuara and were being parked on the side of the road waiting to be allowed to pass. Zuara had closed the town, it was said, and planned to close the Ras Djir crossing in protest of the kidnappings.
By morning, however, although the 25 Zuarans had yet not been freed, travelers reported that they were allowed to continue towards Tunisia.
This was not the first kidnapping according to Sufayan. He said there had been distrust between the two towns since early last year when Zuara was first temporarily liberated between February and March. Al-Jmail had been well-armed by Qaddafi and used to attack Zuara. “They tortured and killed lot of our people”, he said. The problem was that they had not been disarmed after the war ended. Attacks have been occurring for months. The disarmament of Al-Jmail was now an absolute priority for Zuara, he said.
Zuarans have gone through the proper channels to contact the NTC for assistance, but have received more assurances than actual help. The NTC promised it would stop the attacks from Al-Jmail and clean the area of the heavy weapons given to the town by Qaddafi. It sent a brigade from Misrata, which acted as a buffer and kept peace for a while, but the brigade has since left and it is now open war.
Sufayan added that the hostility between the two towns was complicated by ethic factors. Zuara is largely Amazigh, although there are many Arabs there too. who all supported the revolution, whereas Al-Jmail is Arab and this, he says, was used by Qaddafi last year to poison Al-Jamil’s attitude to its neighbor.
He said that there were “huge celebrations” in Al-Jmail when the captured Zuarans were taken there in Saturday evening.
An added factor for the rivalry is thought to be smuggling. It is almost a major cross-border industry at present. However, while the Zuarans are involved in protecting the border, Al-Jmail, according to Sufayan, is heavily involved in smuggling. [/restrict]