By George Grant.
Tripoli, 13 July:
The midnight deadline for the release of two Misrata-based journalists held in Bani Walid has passed, with . . .[restrict]no sign of movement either from their captors or from government-controlled forces mobilised on the outskirts of the city.
Several hundred armoured vehicles, along with more than 150 tanks and heavy artillery, were claimed to have begun to encircle the former Qaddafi stronghold in preparation for a possible assault.
Yesterday, NTC Chairman Mustafa Jalil warned that the state was ready to take “all necessary measures” to secure the journalists’ release if their captors did not do so voluntarily.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Abdurrahim Al-Kib said Bani Walid had until Thursday to release the men.
“We are still waiting”, Misrata television journalist Tahrir Zaroug – a personal friend of the captured men – told the Libya Herald.
“A delegation from the Misrata local council and the local military council travelled to Nessmah on Thursday afternoon to receive the two journalists, where they waited for seven hours”.
Nessmah is situated around 40 kilometres from Bani Walid, and the local Banu Yusuf tribe retains close relations with the town.
A second delegation dispatched by the NTC is currently understood to be in Bani Walid attempting to negotiate the journalists’ release, following an unsuccessful visit on Monday by a group from Mizdah for same purpose.
The two men, Yusuf Baadi and Abdul Qader Fusuq, have been held in the town since Sunday, having been picked up on their return from Mizdah where they had been covering the National Congress elections for the Misrata-based Tobacts TV station.
On Thursday evening, rumours emerged that a third journalist, also from Misrata, had been captured in Bani Walid, although local sources denied this.
Both Juma Belhaj, who commands the Security Battalion of Misrata, and Salem Juha, another brigade commander, have confirmed that they will not move without government authorisation.
The standoff has threatened to reignite simmering tensions between Bani Walid and surrounding areas exacerbated during last year’s revolution.
The town was a pro-Qaddafi bastion during the fighting and is now home to a number of Qaddafi loyalists who fled there when the regime fell.
“Even if they give up the journalists, people are insisting that Bani Walid be cleared of the gang now controlling it”, Zaroug said by telephone.
“Bani Walid must be investigated and cleared of those who took it over. Those who kidnapped the journalists must go to court”. [/restrict]