Tripoli, 29 March: Rumours are circulating in Tripoli that the NTC’s perceived weakness in handling the Sebha crisis may force the resignations of the defence and interior ministers, Colonel Osama Juwaili and Fawzi Abdelal.
The rumours follow remarks by NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil during an interview on Monday that he was ready to dismiss incompetent ministers, although it is not clear whether he had either Col. Juwaili or Mr Abdelal in mind at the time.
Clashes between Sebha brigadesmen and fighters from the Tebu ethnic group have left at least 70 people dead in recent days, with a further 150 reported injured. The NTC’s failure to put an end to the bloodshed has drawn widespread criticism within Libya.
Yesterday, government spokesman Nasser al-Mana confirmed that 1,500 soldiers and border guards were sent to the area on Tuesday, with a further 1,500 being deployed yesterday. In spite of this, the government was seemingly unable to prevent the collapse of a ceasefire between the warring factions agreed on Wednesday, which reportedly broke down after just a few hours.
A Libya Herald source in the area reported that fighting had ceased on Thursday, but that the peace remains very fragile. With so many government forces now in the area, the onus is now seen as being on the NTC to prevent a resumption of violence between the warring factions and to broker a lasting ceasefire acceptable to both sides.
According to Abdul Ghader Hweli, a high-ranking member of the Sebha community, the NTC has appointed a conciliation committee to meet with Tebu representatives in the Tebu-stronghold of Murzuq, some 150 kilometres south of Sebah.
However, Tebu suspicions of the NTC remain high, with Tebu leader Issa Abdel Majid Mansour having accused the NTC on Wednesday of using warplanes to bomb Tebu and he also spoke of “ethnic cleansing”. He has threatened Tebu secession if the NTC did nothing to protect the Tebus.
Our source also reported that any reconciliation meeting in Murzuq would be further complicated by the fact that Tebu fighters have allegedly cut the power-lines to the town, leaving it without electricity, although this cannot be definitively confirmed at present.
With just three months until elections being due, there are fears that NTC is fast running out of time to shore up its faltering reputation. Success in brokering a resolution to the Sebah crisis is seen as an important test in that regard. Success would certainly help bolster the positions of the defence and interior ministers.
The narrowness of the pre-election timeframe casts some doubt as to whether Jalil can really afford to sack either man even if they do fail.