By Mathieu Galtier.
Sirte, 13 October 2012:
The local authorities in Sirte have imposed a night-time curfew as of Friday in response to downtown clashes between local youngsters from the Warfalla tribe and Misrata. It will remain in operation until further notice.
The local council, the local Supreme Security Committee (SSC) and the Council of Elders decided on the curfew on Wednesday. It starts nightly at 10pm. “No civilian is allowed to walk on the streets and cars are forbidden on roads after 10pm”, the chief of military forces in Sirte, Sheikh Swessi Musa, told the Libya Herald. “The army will be deployed. So far, there is no deadline for the curfew.”
The clashes are a local upshot of the Bani Walid crisis which is seen in many parts of the country as being between it and Misrata. “Young people from the Warfalla tribe want to help Bani Walid (whose inhabitants are Warfalla) against people with Misrata roots, especially the shop owners”, Musa said.
There have been some four or five significant clashes in Sirte since the beginning of the Bani Walid siege on 25 September.
Sirte is not the only place to have experienced clashes between Warfalla and Misratans. At the beginning of the month, shops belonging to Misratans in Sebha were torched by local members of the Warfalla tribe.
In Sirte, two members of the armed forces were injured during the first night of the curfew. “One was hit by a bullet. He is in a critical situation. He needs to be transferred to Benghazi”, a source inside the hospital told the Libya Herald. The other soldier was injured by friendly fire, Musa admitted, but added that the man was not in danger.
The previous night, Thursday, a local resident was shot but was not thought to be seriously injured.
“First, Warfalla attacked a butcher’s shop owned by a man who originated from Misrata. Then, they went to the Red Cross’ street, near the seafront”, a witness, who had worked for an international NGO, told the Libya Herald. “They taunted Misratan people, chanting old regime slogans like “Allah, Qaddafi and Libya” or “Warfalla will never forget Qaddafi”. People from both side shot into the air with Kalashnikovs and RPGs. The Warfalla involved were a group of 15-22 year-olds.”
At the end of the street is Area N° 2, home to many Warfalla. Misratans are settled in the east end of the street in Area N° 1.
The Libya Herald heard several loud blasts between 1.30 am and 2 am on Friday morning in the area. The shooting stopped at around 4.30 am. About 20 people were arrested according to the military council. The head of the council, Makhlouf Al-Ferjani, first tried to calm tempers but then decided to use some muscle: “The young people arrested had only small arms on them. It is not important to know if those arrested are from Warfalla or Misrata. We are all living in Sirte. We will not let the city be destroyed. We will behave strongly if needed.”
The curfew is being enforced by the SSC which has 1,200 men from Sirte, a security support unit most of whom are from the east of Libya, especially Benghazi, and the army.
Sirte also contains a dozen brigades (katiba). All of them are under the control of SSC, itself under the Ministry of the Interior. It incorporated the last independent brigade four months ago. The brigades are formed by Sirte people, but three of them are composed purely of men from the Misrata community.
The clashes have become critical only since the beginning of Bani Walid/Misrata issue. “Security has always been excellent in Sirte because we are one family”, Ali Labaz, a member of local council, said.
Authorities rely on tribal influence to ease the situation
“We are relying on tribal structure to maintain the social and security balance in Sirte”, Abdullah Abdurrazak emphasized. He is the manager of the humanitarian and social association, Alliance of the 17 February Revolution. The office was attacked by a rocket-propelled grenade on 9 October. So far, it has not been disclosed who was responsible.
Sirte’s 70,000-strong population is divided in four main groups: Ferjani, Qaddafi, Warfalla and Misratans. The first are the most numerous, especially in the town, while Qaddafis own most of the land outside it. Under Qaddafi, only Misuratans were against the dictator. During the revolution, Ferjani divided between rebels and loyalists; Qaddafis and Warfallas stood alongside the dictator. Despite this split, the Council of Elders, which draws together all the community leaders, is widely respected.
“I don’t know about other towns but in Sirte meetings between all the tribes have always been effective. We hope that a peaceful solution will be find out instead of using military power”, said Ali Saidik Al-Ferjani, deputy head of Jalaat brigade.
Sirte ready for celebrate first anniversary of Qaddafi’s death on 20 October
The clashes have occurred as the town step up security for next week. On 20 October, it will celebrate the first anniversary of the Qaddafi’s death. The former leader, who was born in Sirte, was killed in Area N° 2 by revolutionaries after his convoy was attacked by NATO. The day represents the official end of the revolution which itself ended a 42-year dictatorship.
Sirte has a reputation to being home to a significant number of pro-Qaddafi loyalists. He used Sirte as the political capital of Libya. A huge complex was build to hold the African Union congress in 2009. Today, numerous buildings are wrecks, severely damaged by fighting and NATO bombings.
“Ten thousand buildings were destroyed during the revolution”, local Congressman Abduljalil Shawish said. The Libya Herald has seen that 80 percent of buildings in the town still have bullet holes. Elsewhere, former Qaddafi regime slogans have been painted over along the long, wide roads. Messages have changed to celebrate the revolution — and to support Bani Walid, such as “Bani Walid will not be another Tawargha”.
Tawargha is the town destroyed by Misratans during the revolution because of the role of Tawarghans in Misrata’s siege.
Inside Area N° 2, a driver shouted to foreign journalists : “You should be in Bani Walid now !”
Rumours have spread in Libya that Qaddafi supporters might organise an attack on the day. “We have arrested a lot of Qaddafi-ists in the last few days”, Makhlouf Al-Ferjani said. “We are ready.”