By Umar Khan
Tripoli, April 5
“Send the national army or armed brigades from any city other than Zuara” is what the delegation . . .[restrict]from Rigdeleen told the leader of the Military Council of Tripoli, Abdul Hakeem Belhaj. Mohammed Zargouni was part of the delegation which met Belhaj several weeks ago soon after an unreported clash between the two cities. He promised to pass on the concerns to the higher authorities in the interim government and also to the Chairman of the NTC, Mustafa Abdul Jalil.
According to Zargouni, a clash took place between the brigade of Sabratha and Rigdeleen which resulted in the death of a fighter from Rigdeleen. Another fighter was taken prisoner before the reported seizure of fighters from Zuara on Saturday. (There is a difference in the number of the fighters as Zuara says 25 of its fighters were seized. Others say there were 21.)
He said that, fearing the reaction from Rigdeleen on the death of one of their soldiers, the brigade from Sabratha which was guarding the borders near the Al-Assah area returned to their city, leaving a brigade from Zuara to guard and patrol the area.
The deployment of the brigade from Zuara was not communicated to the Military Council of Rigdeleen, Zargouni said, and considering the sensitivities of the relationship with Zuara, the leaders thought the presence of Zuaran forces might have been a move to attack Rigdeleen on two fronts. In order to counter this, people from Rigdeleen rushed to the borders and seized 21 fighters along with their weapons. They were beaten by the brigade, not knowing that the Zuara fighters had no intention of attacking Rigdeleen. “Whenever you get hold of your enemy, it is hard to control yourself. I cannot lie; they were tortured and then released as soon as we learnt that they had had no intention of attacking us,” Zargouni said.
The fighters were released after having been taken to Al-Jmail. That was the result of negotiations between the two councils, mediated by a small number of people from the neighboring towns. After the return of the fighters to Zuara, its brigades attacked the neighboring towns of Al-Jmail and Rigdeleen upon learning about the torture. They used heavy caliber weapons, “106mm and tanks to hit us.”
Zargouni said that five people had been killed with more than 60 injured in Rigdeleen alone as of Wednesday morning. “The figure was confirmed by the Military Council of Rigdeleen this morning but they are afraid it may increase because of the seriousness of injuries. More than 40 houses were hit and the damage ranges from 15 to 40 percent.”
When asked about the accusation that Qaddafi loyalists were involved and that people of Zuara saw green flags, Zargouni said, “It is ridiculous. I was jailed for 10 years in the 1970s; my brother was sentenced to death. How can we raise Qaddafi’s flag or fight under it when we were fighting it while he was alive? We would never allow that to happen and would be the first ones to fight against it, even unto death.”
According to Zargouni, 80 percent of people supported Qaddafi at the time Rigdeleen was liberated but before the clashes started, the former dictator’s supporters had fallen to 50-55 percent. “We all know each other. We know what they are thinking. It is obvious they were supporting Qaddafi but he’s dead and nobody from our area ever tried to bother us after the liberation of the city. We celebrate together and this is the way we can change their perception of the new Libya. We don’t have to kill them to make them realize what is best for the country and what is the only way we can move forward.”
Umar Khan can be found at twitter.com/umarnkhan [/restrict]