Monday, November 10, 2008

‘11 Killed’ in Libya Clashes

Written by The Media Line Staff

Published Monday, November 10, 2008

At least 11 people have been killed in clashes between government forces and rebels in southern Libya since protests broke out there last week, rights organizations say.

Human-rights groups say security forces began battling rebels and civilians in Al-Kufra, in southeast Libya last week.

Clashes involve members of the Tabu tribe, who were protesting against discriminatory laws and a lack of medical services. Military units and helicopters were soon dispatched to the region to quell the mutiny, opposition groups say.

The reports are hard to authenticate because of the closed and secretive nature of the Libyan regime. Reports of the clashes have largely been leaked by bloggers and opposition groups.

There has been no mention of the clashes in the Libyan media, which toes the line of the regime.

Libyan opposition groups contacted by The Media Line said they had accounts of the events but asked not to be mentioned by name so as not to risk their sources in Libya.

A critic of the regime told The Media Line there was a deliberate policy of media blackouts when such incidents occurred.

Tension with the Tabu tribe began in December when the government accused their leaders of siding with Libya’s rival, Chad, and stripped them of their citizenship.

One organization said the tribe was involved in illegal weapons trading over the borders of Libya, Chad and Sudan and this had put them at odds both with the regime and with other members of the Tabu tribe.

What the regime is doing is a blatant human rights violation because its forces are targeting unarmed civilians, a Libyan opposition activist said. He added that recent reports suggest that roads leading to and from Al-Kufra have now been cut off, essentials such as food are not arriving in the area, and that a “humanitarian catastrophe is on the horizon.”

Libya is trying to patch up relations with the West after decades of diplomatic isolation and the latest incidents cast a shadow over Tripoli’s efforts to show a positive image to the West.

Libya is paying $1.5 billion to a fund as compensation to American victims of Libyan-linked terror attacks in the 1980s. The payment removes one of the major hurdles to normalizing relations between Tripoli and Washington.

Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice paid a historic visit to Tripoli. Rice is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Libya in more than 50 years.

In 2003 Libyan President Mu’ammar Al-Qadhafi announced his country was abandoning its Weapons of Mass Destruction program, a move that began Libya’s rapprochement with the West.

The release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor from a Libyan jail last year after being accused of infecting Libyan children with AIDS was another step towards reconciliation with Western powers.

Despite a thaw in relations with the West, critics say the regime is still stifling opposition and is dealing with any expressions of dissent inside the country with an iron fist.

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