By George Grant & Mohammed Eljarh.
Tripoli, 6 December:
Some 200 prisoners have escaped from a jail in Sebha with the alleged complicity of the facility’s judicial police, it was announced on Wednesday.
The incident took place on Tuesday, precipitating a mass walkout by Congressmen representing the Fezzan region at what they perceive as the ongoing failure of the GNC and government to address urgent security considerations in the south.
One hundred and ninety-seven prisoners escaped the prison of Sabha yesterday (Tuesday),” a member of the security services told the AFP news agency. “Judiciary police, who control the prison facilitated the escape of the detainees, the majority of them common criminals.”
This is not the first time that Sebha has witnessed a prison breakout with the possible help of the authorities. In July, 34 prisoners escaped from the town’s Reform and Rehabilitation Institute using ventilation shafts from the bathrooms.
Suggestions that the inmates may have been aided by the prison’s guards prompted the head of Sebha’s Judicial Police Department, Colonel Ibrahim Saleh, to appoint a team of investigators to pursue the case.
According to Congressman Soad Ghannour, a National Forces Alliance member for Sebha, the GNC boycott was in protest over “the deteriorating security in their region”, with Tuesday’s jailbreak marking “the final straw.”
Not every member of the Fezzan region participated in the walkout, however, with perhaps 20 members said to be involved.
Security in Fezzan has been fragile at best over the past 12 months, with Sebha, Kufra and other southern towns witnessing numerous clashes between competing tribes and factions resulting in scores of dead and wounded.
The representatives have said that southern towns continue to be terrorised by gangs and armed criminals, amidst a “crippling silence” by the central authorities in Tripoli.
Even before the revolution, arms smuggling and other criminal activity was widespread in Libya’s remote south, a region habitually neglected by the government. With the influx of weapons that accompanied last year’s revolution, however, the situation is reckoned to have deteriorated, with only minimal enforcement of the rule of law.
Speaking to the Libya Herald, National Security Committee member Abdulmonem Alyaser, who previously chaired the GNC’s interim security committee, said the previous government bore much of the responsibility for the current crisis.
“The Kib government was totally ineffective in this area, and the former Minister of Defence [Osama Juwaili] in particular was a total failure. The national army was not provided with the necessary support; they had no vehicles, no ammo and no weapons.”
Alyaser defended the national army officers in charge of the south’s security, saying that they themselves were trained professionals. “Congress members for the south have a specific issue with the commanders, complaining that they aren’t present where they need to be. I don’t agree with that; it’s not the commanders, it’s the capabilities they have at their disposal.
“These commanders are professionals; they don’t just operate randomly. The people of the south expect them to behave just like the thurwar [militias] who can move quickly and in an ill-disciplined fashion. The army is more reserved; they calculate their ammunition and their resources, and that is what the problem is – they don’t have the necessary resources.”
In addition to poor security, the south has also suffered from a mass influx of illegal immigrants as well as growing concerns over the presence of Islamist militants, including members of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
According to immigration officials, an estimated 40,000 non-Libyans, the majority of them Africans, were granted Libyan nationality during last year’s uprising in exchange for their support for the Qaddafi regime. As part of a broader power-struggle, some Arab tribes have exploited this situation, branding the black African Tebu, many of whom supported last year’s revolution, as part of the problem.
Some residents have been describing the situation as unacceptable and dangerous with others going as far as to call it an “occupation” by foreign nationals fleeing their own countries.
The Zeidan government has vowed to make local security considerations a central priority, pledging to decentralise power to give local officials greater control over their affairs as part of that effort.