By Umar Khan
Tripoli, 16 May:
The desert town of Ghadames on the border . . .[restrict]with Algeria saw heavy clashes on Wednesday morning when the city was attacked by a group of Tuareg people. Tuareg leader Eesa Talaly and eight others were killed in subsequent clashes that lasted for more than seven hours. One man from the brigade of Ghadames was also killed with more than 20 people injured. The man killed from Ghadames was named Hadi Abu Zmala.
According to a security official of the Ghadames Brigade, Yaqoub Davi, the Tuareg were gathering forces for many days in a place locally known as “Indian Company”, 70 kilometers away from Ghadames.
Yaqoub said “they attacked the ’50-km checkpoint’ three days ago. It was under the control of National Army. They had light weapons and were unable to defend their positions. There is only one brigade in Ghadames, which is under the National Army. We could not retaliate without orders from the chief of staff.”
Yaqoub added that “our head of the local council went to Tripoli and met General Yousef Mangoush, the army chief and he promised to send special forces from Benghazi but they never came.” He continued: “We were expecting the attack and today they (Tuareg) attacked us with mortar rockets and 106mm [anti-tank weapons].” He also said that the shelling was random and hospital and civilian houses were damaged. Yaqoub added,:“We told the Tuareg people living inside Ghadames to stay in their houses to avoid any regrettable incident. Thank God, none happened.”
The clashes that lasted for more than seven hours were ended with the brigade of Ghadames taking back the airport and establishing complete control over the city. “We fought back and they started to retreat. We swept the whole area and took control of the airport; everything was under control by midafternoon. Nine Tuareg were killed including their leader Isa Talaly. We are not sure about their injured fighters as they took them to some unknown location,” Yaqoub said.
When asked about the Tuareg living inside Ghadames, Yaqoub insists they were no different than any Arabs living in Ghadames. He said: “We are brothers; we have lived together for ages. The group of Tuareg people who attacked Ghadames today is the same one who fought for Qaddafi. They fled the city after the liberation of Tripoli and have been trying to destabalise Ghadames ever since.”
Ghadames has seen number of clashes since its liberation. A large number of Tuareg fled the town in September fearing reprisals after the fall of Qaddafi regime. The most serious incident took place last year when more than 10 local residents from Ghadames were kidnapped by the Tuareg, only to be released three weeks later when the higher authorities intervened.
Libya is set to hold the first elections in more than four decades on 19 June and with incidents such as this seen as undermining the security of the country, it will be important to see how the interim government reacts to such incidents to impose its authority and a ensure secure environment for the upcoming elections.
Umar Khan can be found at twitter.com/umarnkhan [/restrict]