By George Grant.
Tripoli, 2 October:
Fatal clashes have been reported today between government-controlled forces and militiamen just a few kilometres from Bani Walid.
Troops from Misrata, Tripoli and other towns in Libya have been mustering on the outskirts of the former Qaddafi stronghold throughout today in preparation for a possible assault.
It is understood that a mobilisation order was issued in the early hours of this morning.
The clashes took place in the Mordum area close to Bir Dufan, some 20 kilometres northeast of Bani Walid on the road to Misrata.
“One death has been confirmed on the Bani Walid side, and around ten people have been injured”, Mohammed Bashir, leader of the loyalist Bani Walid Local Council in Tripoli told the Libya Herald. “It is not confirmed exactly how many people were injured on each side”.
Civilians are also said to have begun evacuating Bani Walid fearing a possible attack on the town itself.
“Negotiations have been ongoing to try and reach a peaceful solution to the crisis, but this is looking increasingly unlikely”, Bashir said.
Last Tuesday, the National Congress issued an ultimatum to the town to hand over those suspected of killing Omran Shaban, the Misratan revolutionary credited with first discovering Qaddafi in a drainpipe in Sirte last October.
He was kidnapped in Bani Walid in July and held for two months, during which time he suffered a gunshot wound and was allegedly tortured. He succumbed to his injuries at a hospital in Paris last Tuesday, having been finally been released on 13 September.
The Congress authorised the ministries of defence and interior to use all necessary measures to arrest the suspects if they were not surrendered voluntarily, and gave them ten days to do so.
At least four other Misratans are also being held in the town, according to local activists, and the government has also demanded that they be released.
That deadline expires on 5 October, and it is looking increasingly possible, although still unconfirmed, that an assault on Bani Walid will be ordered if the suspects are not handed over by that time.