Violence flares between rival ethnic tribes in Libyan city of Kufra
Located near Libya’s southeastern border, the city of Kufra has been wracked by mounting ethnic violence over the past week, as rival Toubou and Zwai tribes struggle for control over the region. Yet as the rest of the country prepares for historic parliamentary election this weekend, our Toubou Observer in Kufra says Libya’s interim leaders must withdraw the troops it deployed to the restive city before peace talks can even begin.
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A home in Kufra ransacked during clashes. Photo posted on June 30.
Located near Libya’s southeastern border, the city of Kufra has been wracked by mounting ethnic violence over the past week, as rival Toubou and Zwai tribes struggle for control over the region. Yet as the rest of the country prepares for historic parliamentary elections this weekend, our Toubou Observer in Kufra says Libya’s interim leaders must withdraw the troops it deployed to the restive city before peace talks can even begin.
A piece of mortar found in a home. Photo published on June 30.
Fighting between Toubou and Zwei forces have killed at least 47 people in Kufra over the last week alone. Clashes first erupted in February, after the two tribes took up arms against each other for control of the area’s porous border with Egypt, Sudan and Chad – and the lucrative drug, arms and human trafficking that move across it.
In an attempt to stem the violence, Libya’s transitional government in Tripoli dispatched a peacekeeping “shield” force made up of former anti-Gaddafi rebels from the Benghazi region. But their presence only fuelled the conflict. Many Toubous believed the rebels supported their Zwai rivals, and have criticised their deployment for being illegal.
A cemetery in the eastern city of Benghazi, where "shield" force members killed in Kufra are buried. Photo posted on Facebook July 1.
Toubous are African nomads who traditionally raised livestock in the Saharan border region between Libya and Chad. Along with Berbers and Arab Zwais, they are one of Libya’s three main ethnic groups, although they are in the minority.
Ethnic tensions in the Kufra area date back to before former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in October 2011. Under Gaddafi, many Toubous were stripped of their citizenship after the regime claimed the nomadic tribe was in fact of Chadian origin. Since Gaddafi’s downfall however, the tribe has been determined to bolster its power and influence over the region.
“Toubous are afraid the troops from Benghazi will try to take control of the borders”
Abou Bakr Ali Ibrahim is from Kufra. He is a member of the Toubou National Council, an informal Toubou defense structure made up of activists and members of the interim government. With other Toubous from Tripoli, he set up a reconciliation committee which he says will go to Kufra in a few days to try to broker peace between the two tribes.
The Toubous from Kufra immediately opposed the ‘shield’ force because they consider its intervention completely illegal. They see the force as partisan to the Zwai’s cause, because they are Arabs too as opposed to the Toubous, who are African nomads.
Wounded "shield" fighter after his return to Benghazi. Photo published on June 28.
The main problem is at the borders, which the Toubous have been monitoring and controlling since the fall of the Gaddafi regime. In particular, they controlled a much sought-after drug trafficking route coming from Mali via Egypt. The Toubous don’t want fighters from Benghazi taking control of these borders, nor of the border camps that house illegal migrants.
A child's room destroyed by mortar fire. Photo published on June 30.
We believe that there has been enough violence. That’s why the National Toubou Council set up a reconciliation committee with Libyan authorities last week. Its members represent the different factions present in Kufra, and it will travel to the region very shortly to try to engage all the parties involved in talks. We have reached out to prominent Zwai figures in Tripoli, who have said that they are willing to try to persuade their fellow tribesmen to negotiate.