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Bani Walid’s fate unknown amid conflicting reports of govt, militia takeovers

Published time: October 24, 2012 14:11
Edited time: October 25, 2012 14:01

Reuters / Ismail Zetouni

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Libyan officials claimed that government forces had seized control of Bani Walid, the last stronghold for supporters of the Gaddafi regime, after the city was under siege for 20 days. But sources in the town said that militias now control the area.

An RT source has described violent images of militias destroying homes with heavy machinery.

A man named Faraj, who is currently in Egypt but is in contact with relatives in Bani Walid, said that militias from Misrata, along with Islamist groups, were blockading the city.

“The militias have blocked and attacked the city and civilian people. Most of [the civilians] have run. The children and elderly are screaming for food and medicine. The [militias] killed the people and demolished houses…and they used internationally forbidden gases against the civilian people inside,” Faraj told RT.

Faraj also reported that the militias attacked the town’s electricity station and closed down mobile phone service.

Many western media outlets have reported that government forces are behind the blockade – but Faraj says that is simply not true.

“Libyan government forces did not attack Bani Walid…don’t think that it is government forces. This is Misrata militias and Islamist groups,” he said.

An activist from Bani Walid corroborated reports that local armed militias had attacked the city, not government forces.

“Our city is dying,” Afaf Yusef said in an interview with RT. “It’s just armed forces. Where is our legitimate government? They announced a country of law, a country of justice. Where are they? Why can’t we see them?”

“The situation is very difficult,” she added. “The city is almost completely destroyed. Residents are buried in the rubble. Many among the victims are children and the elderly. There are even more children than the elderly.”

GNC defends controversial operations

A spokesman for the Libyan General National Congress (GNC) contradicted Faraj’s testimony, stating that the government forces are actually inside the town – not militias.

“The whole picture is that this fight now is for the government because through this dispute, some crimes have been carried by some outlaw guys. They were supposed to be given to the local government to be judged, but they ran away. They escaped and hid in certain places in Bani Walid. That’s why the local government – the Libyan forces – had to go there and bring these guys to justice,” Mohamed Sayeh told RT.

He also adamantly maintained that claims of toxic gases used on civilians were false.

“These are lies. I trust the guys who are over there. I trust our forces. They're Muslim. Their human values are very high. I have lots of trust and confidence that they will never use such a weapon. These things were used during the days of the dictator. He did use lots of things like this. But for our forces, all of them, they have voted against these things. They have values and rules. They will never break the rules or their values,” he said.

When questioned about women and children who have died in the violence, Sasyeh admitted that not everything has run smoothly regarding the government’s techniques.

“When government forces are attacking a place where there are outlaws hiding, of course it won’t be easy. It’s like a surgical operation. There will be some small mistakes. But the whole picture, the whole thing is being handled perfectly. We are taking care of all the families,” he said.

Meanwhile, there are media reports that Bani Walid has been completely seized.

According to AFP, hundreds of pro-government fighters fired their guns in the air and raised the Libyan flag on abandoned public buildings to celebrate the seizure.

Other fighters blasted the windows and walls of nearby buildings with Kalashnikov rifles and anti-tank rockets. The fighters were mostly former rebels from the rival town of Misrata.

Rebel chiefs told AFP that some resistence was taking place in the southern area of the town, but that the region was "almost liberated."

Government militias have blockaded the town for the past 20 days, seeking to arrest those responsible for the death of Omran Shaaban – the man credited with capturing Muammar Gaddafi last year. The Warfalla tribe controlling Bani Walid was accused of kidnapping and torturing Shaaban.

Wednesday’s victorious fighters carried a large portrait of Shaaban.

The Misrata militia that laid siege to the former regime stronghold was the same group accused of war crimes by Human Rights Watch last week. The nonprofit published a 50-page report detailing the final hours of Muammar Gaddafi: While the toppled leader attempted to flee Tripoli on October 20, 2011, the rebels captured and murdered him, his son Mutassin and 66 other regime supporters.

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