Tripoli, 12 October:
A delegation sent by the government and the National Congress to negotiate with Bani Walid was turned back on the road from Tarhuna today by militiamen from Misrata.
The Union of Wise Men and Consultation in Libya, a group of more than 100 elders from across the country, was informed by the Misratans that they answered directly to their superiors, not to the government, and that the time for negotiating was at an end.
“We left around 10am from Tripoli with a letter from the government and [National Congress President] Magarief”, said Jmail Sharif, one of the delegates.
“We passed through the checkpoint at Tarhuna and were met by a second checkpoint beyond which we could not pass. Men from Misrata arrived in civilian clothes and fired in the air.”
According to a Belgian journalist travelling with the delegation, the Misratans only arrived at the checkpoint after the group was stopped.
“It happened over a period of around 30 minutes” said Gert Van Langendonck. “We were stopped at a very small checkpoint, and the guys from Misrata turned up about 15 minutes later. There were four to six of them in two vehicles”.
Van Langendonck said that the Misratans refused to recognise the authority conveyed by the letter from Magarief and the government as sufficient to allow the delegation to pass.
“They said they followed orders only from their direct superiors and that anyway, negotiations had been ongoing for four months and they were tired of it”.
The incident is the latest in a string of unilateral actions on the part of Misrata over the Bani Walid situation.
Predominantly Misratan forces stationed at Bir Dufan have launched five attacks on Bani Walid since 2 October, none of them authorised by Chief of Staff General Yusuf Mangoush.
Today’s events also confirm that the Tarhuna road to Bani Walid has once again been closed, having been opened on Sunday when brigades from Tripoli and the surrounding areas withdrew from their positions after commanders reportedly said they wished to play no further part in the siege.
Another delegation will attempt to make the same journey tomorrow at 10am, although questions remain as to how successful any negotiations with Bani Walid will be even if they do take place.
During a visit to the town on Tuesday, Bani Walid leaders told the Libya Herald that an investigation to find the killers of Omran Shaban had not even begun, but that they would have no objection to a police team being dispatched by Tripoli if the government so wished. They complained that the present crisis was fundamentally a judicial matter, but that it was being wrongfully treated as a military one.