Tripoli, 11 June:
Foreign NGOs operating in Sirte have pulled out after being told to leave by the town’s military council. Although . . .[restrict]issued by the military council, the order is said to have come from the Ministry of Interior.
NGOs say that they have been told to provide details of their operations, and will not be allowed to continue work in Sirte until they do so. It is understood that some of the NGOs have taken objection to the intrusive nature of the questions.
There have been only a handful of foreign NGOs working in Sirte, Qaddafi’s hometown which he expanded and named as Libya’s capital after he fled Tripoli last August. Most of them are involved in demining operations. As a result of the order, MAG (Mining Advisory Group), Danish Demining Group, FSD (Swiss Foundation for Mine Action) and Handicap International have left the town according to a demining coordinator. However he said that discussions with the military council and other Libyan officials were due to take place tomorrow, Tuesday, to resolve the issue and so enable the organisations back into Sirte.
“The situation is very tricky” said another foreign NGO official who did not want to be named but confirmed receiving the pullout demand.
An official from the Interior Ministry confirmed the order. However, he said that only “unregistered” foreign NGOs working in Sirte had been told to leave. He said that because they had not registered, what they were doing was illegal and not in Libya’s interests. He said that Libya was a state of law and those laws had to be recognized.
A spokesman at the Ministry of Culture and Civil Society which is the body that registers foreign NGOs said that he knew nothing about the order. “It’s very weird,” he said.
A member of one foreign NGO who likewise did not want to be named said there were suspicions that the real reason for the order was that the military council did not want foreign eyes seeing what was going on in the town where security has become a serious issue.
Sirte has witnessed a spate of killings and kidnappings in recent weeks. A week ago, five members of the town’s military police were abducted from their headquarters. On Thursday night, a local man named as Abdel Qader Madani, was assassinated. He was said to be connected to the Military Council. He was shot in a residential area by an unknown assailant who then drove off at high speed.
Late last month, seven members of the Sirte Revolutionary Brigade were killed when its headquarters were attacked.
The NGO official added that Sirte Military Council were also thought to be uncomfortable with the fact that many demining experts were foreign ex-military personnel who, because of their work, could wander around what is a militarily sensitive area without its knowledge.
Sirte was devastated in the street-by-street fighting during last main battle of the revolution in October when Qaddafi was finally caught and killed. Since then most of the population have left. Costs of rebuilding Sirte have been estimated to run into tens of billions of dinars. [/restrict]