Libya tribes fear clashes over captive journalists

July 12, 2012 - 2:38 PM
Mideast Libya Gadhafis Legacy

In this Wednesday, March 7, 2012 photo, Libyan Tawargha men play football in a refugee camp at the outskirts of Benghazi, Libya. On the country's Mediterranean coast, Misrata, Libya's third largest city and its business center, local militiamen expelled some 40,000 ethnic Tawargha Africans for allegedly collaborating in the killing and rape of Misratans and for helping Gadhafi's forces in imposing a tight siege on the city during the uprising. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Tribal leaders traveled Thursday to a town known for its support of deposed Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi to try to mediate the release of two captive journalists in a standoff that could lead to renewed clashes.

The abduction appeared to be an attempt at settling scores between rival cities whose residents battled one another during the six-month civil war that led to Gadhafi's capture and killing last October.

Omar Boghada, manager of the captive journalists' Misrata-based TV station, told The Associated Press that the captors from the town of Bani Walid are willing to release the two only in exchange for some of the town's men held captive by Misrata's former rebels.

He said about 40 tribal sheiks from areas in eastern Libya, the central city of Misrata and the capital of Tripoli met with the captors in Bani Walid on Thursday, but they failed to reach a solution. The journalists have been detained since Saturday when they were reporting Libya's weekend national election for the Tobak TV station, launched after the uprising.

Libya is flush with weapons left over from the war. The country's interim government has largely failed to restore security or unite the country since.

Representatives from Libya's largely novice military and police force were sent to try to mediate earlier this week but failed. The head of the country's National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, and the Interior Ministry released statements earlier this week demanding the journalists be released without conditions, but their calls went unheeded.

The small town of Bani Walid was among the last in Libya to fall to the rebels.

Misrata, on the other hand, Libya's third largest city, suffered from some of the most severe bombardments and atrocities at the hands of Gadhafi's forces during the uprising. Residents say women were raped and hundreds of people killed.

Boghada, the TV station manager, warned of violent clashes soon. He said he expects the journalists can be released only by force in a campaign to rid Bani Walid of its missiles and weapons once and for all.

Fears of a battle between the two cities came as a deadline given by Misrata militia commander Mohammed al-Swehili expired Wednesday. He threatened that forces from all over the country would attack Bani Walid.

Bani Walid resident Joseph, who declined to give his last name for fear of reprisal, warned that residents would fight back if anyone tries to attack the town.

"There will be a high price in blood paid, especially because there are elderly and tribal sheikhs involved and snipers who can take out anyone who surrounds Bani Walid and tries to enter it without our approval," he said.

A Misrata tribal sheik, Abdel-Sami, said he is worried that if the law is not applied in Libya, more clashes will break out.

"We want the return of the law and not the return of war," he said.