By George Grant.
Tripoli, 1 October:
Conflicting reports have emerged this evening as to whether or not the military has been mobilised in . . .[restrict]preparation for a possible assault on the former Qaddafi stronghold of Bani Walid.
Unconfirmed reports have been received today of clashes between Libya Shield forces and suspected Qaddafi loyalists at a checkpoint located near to the town, and it is claimed that a more general mobilisation is now underway.
“We are waiting for the command of the army chief of staff [Yousef Mangoush]”, Misrata Local Council chief Saleem Baitelamal told the Libya Herald this afternoon.
“The situation in Misrata is that all militias belonging to the army have been alerted. All are ready.”
Interior Minister Fawzi Abdelal also said on television today that an order had been issued to the Supreme Security Committee, which is separate from the National Army, to prepare itself for a possible assault.
On Tuesday, the National Congress issued an ultimatum to Bani Walid to hand over those suspected of involvement in the killing of Omran Shaban, the Misratan revolutionary credited with first discovering Muammar Qaddafi in a drainpipe in Sirte last October.
The Congress voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion authorising the ministries of interior and defence to use all necessary measures to arrest the suspects. The deadline expires on 5 October.
However, a spokesman for Prime Minister-elect and current Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur has told this paper that no official mobilisation order had been issued by the government to either the army or brigades under its command.
“I can confirm that no action has been authorised against Bani Walid and no mobilisation order issued”, he said.
Tensions between Misrata and Bani Walid have been high for several months following the abduction of several Misratans in the town.
Misratan forces were reported to have mobilised back in July following the kidnapping of two prominent journalists in Bani Walid, whilst Shaban and a colleague were themselves seized four days later having been dispatched to the town.
Reports emerged that a sizeable invasion force had mustered at the frontline checkpoint of Bir Dufan, around 20 kilometres northeast of Bani Walid, although these were proved to be false after the Libya Herald visited the area.
The government in Tripoli is anxious to avoid any unilateral action by Misrata, and it is almost certain that any move on Bani Walid will involve forces from beyond just that city.
It is hoped that the threat of force will prove sufficient to compel Bani Walid tol hand over the suspected men before any action is taken. [/restrict]