Libya: Qaddafi escalates attacks on Berbers of western mountains
After pulling back from besieged Misrata, Moammar Qaddafi's forces have reportedly been pouring into Libya's western Nafusah Mountains, surrounding and shelling villages of the Berber minority. The offensive in the remote region follows the seizure of a border post near Wazen by rebels last week. Some 30,000 have fled the region into Tunisia, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. "He has been trying to starve us," said Jamal Maharouk, a Berber rebel fighter in a Tunisian hospital told the New York Times. He insisted that rebel actions in the region were purely defensive. "By my god, these are peaceful people fighting against an evil regime," he said.
The Tripoli government, however, denies that it has attacked the civil population—and even denies that the refugees in Tunisia are really refugees. Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said the refugees were lying in order to win support from NATO. He said the government had intercepted phone calls among rebels planning to stage a bogus refugee crisis by forcing members of their families to cross into Tunisia and report atrocities. "They are fake refugee camps," he said. "Qatar is paying for them." (NYT, April 24)
US officials say more than a half million people, most of them third-country nationals, have fled Libya since the uprising began in Februar—with some 5,000 people joining the exodus every day. (VOA, April 25)
Libyan rebels were dealt a setback April 25 as air-strikes by Qaddafi forces on oil fields in the rebel-held east halted oil production. Wahid Bughaigis, who serves as oil minister for the National Transitional Council (NTC), told reporters that oil production from the key fields of Messla and Sarir will not resume until at least a month. (RTT, April 25)
US Sen. John McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, arrived April 22 in the rebel capital of Benghazi, where he said the insurgents battling to overthrow Qaddafi were his heroes. The administration in Benghazi has been formally recognized only by France, Italy and Qatar. (NYT, April 23)
Ironically, McCain's visit came just as it was revealed that Abu Sufian Ibrahim Ahmed Hamuda bin Qumu, a former prisoner at Guantánamo Bay who had been deemed "a probable member of al-Qaeda," is now leading of a band of anti-Qaddafi rebel fighters known as the Darnah Brigade in northeast Libya. (NYT, April 25)
The Tripoli regime meanwhile accused NATO of trying to assassinate Qaddafi after the coalition sent at least two guided missiles into the sprawling complex where he lives in the heart of Tripoli, destroying offices and a library used by the Libyan leader. In a statement, NATO described the April 25 air-strike as a "precision strike" on a communications headquarters "that was used to coordinate attacks against civilians."
Countered regime spokesman Moussa Ibrahim: "We are regarding it as an attempt to assassinate the leader and unifying figure of this country and other political leaders of this country." Speaking at a news conference in front of the ruined buildings, describing the air-strike as an act "worthy of the mafia, of gangs, but not of governments."
"How is this act of terrorism protecting civilians in Libya? How is this act of terrorism helping establish peace in Libya?" he asked. "Targeting political leaders will only help make the situation worse." (WP, April 25)