Libya Leader to Negotiate Army Peaceful Entry into Bani Walid


Libya's top official headed for Bani Walid on Thursday to try to persuade its tribal and military leaders to allow a peaceful army takeover, a day after clashes in the former rebel bastion killed 11 people.

Ex-rebel combatants linked to the army, including many from the rival city of Misrata, attacked the oasis town on Wednesday in fighting that left at least 11 dead and dozens wounded, according to sources in both camps.

The attack came exactly one year after former rebels declared the liberation of Bani Walid, which remained loyal to strongman Moammar Gadhafi throughout the 2011 conflict that led to his ouster and killing.

A military leader in the town, which is seen by many as a shelter for die-hard Gadhafi loyalists wanted by the authorities, said national assembly president Mohammed Megaryef was due in Bani Walid on Thursday.

"We are expecting a visit today by the president of the General National Congress (GNC)," Salem al-Waer told Agence France Presse.

"But I do not know how he (Megaryef) will manage to enter the city while militias from the city of Misrata continue to shell us," he added.

The hilltop town has been besieged and shelled daily by "lawless Misrata militias" operating under the banner of the nascent national army, according to Waer and other residents.

On Wednesday, Shield Libya officers and fighters from the city of Misrata said they had received orders to advance into Bani Walid but the army's spokesman, Colonel Ali al-Sheikhi, swiftly denied this.

The spokesman of the national assembly, Omar Hmeidan, said on Thursday that Megaryef had traveled to Bani Walid in a bid to "apply order 7."

That order, issued by the General National Congress on September 25, calls on the defense and interior ministries to find those who kidnapped and tortured Omar ben Shaaban, 22, a native of Misrata credited with capturing Gadhafi.

The death of the former rebel stoked tensions between Misrata and Bani Walid, neighboring but historically rival cities which found themselves on opposite sides of the 2011 conflict.

Acting on the assembly's order, army troops and several brigades made up of ex-rebels encircled Bani Walid in early October and threatened to "purge" former regime remnants.

"A military force will enter the town with the accord of the local tribes," assembly spokesman Hmeidan told AFP.

A military source said regular army forces were on their way from Tripoli to Bani Walid, 170 kilometers (110 miles) southeast of the capital, in order to take control of the hilltop town.

On Wednesday, the chief of staff said the army was "ready to enter Bani Walid" and that tribal leaders had agreed to grant its forces passage in order to "impose the authority of the state."

Bani Walid tribal leader Ali Zarkoun told AFP that he and other elders were expecting to meet with Megaryef to search for a compromise.

"They want to enter with the regular armed forces, so we will discuss this with them," he said without entering into details.

Many elders and commanders have vowed to repel any advance by "lawless militias" on the town and call into question the neutrality of the national army, which is still in the process of being formed.

They fear that they will suffer a fate similar to that of residents of Tawarga, a town that was accused of supporting the former regime and endured brutal reprisal attacks by forces from Misrata at the end of the 2011 conflict.