[Debate] (Fwd) Fisk on Libya

Yoshie Furuhashi critical.montages at gmail.com
Fri Aug 26 15:15:46 BST 2011

Basically, the rebels have yet to take Fezzan, not just Sirte and
other coastal areas in the middle of Libya (see below).  As for what
to call the rebel entity TNC, so far about 30 countries have
recognized it as the sole authority of Libya, I believe.  So, holdouts
are still a large majority, and the rebels' Western and Gulf Arab
backers will be waging an aggressive campaign for recognition of the
TNC everywhere in the South, preferably to achieve it before the next

Libya: what about the south?
The situation on the ground in southern Libya is largely unknown but
any new government will have to tame this wild expanse

Alex Warren
Wednesday 24 August 2011 17.00 BST

Some 400 miles south of Tripoli, the city of Sebha is a sprawling mess
of low-lying houses, dusty roads and half-finished construction
projects in the heart of Libya's Fezzan region. In the middle of a
small roundabout, framed by a low green fence, is a one-room cabin
called Dar Muammar that was briefly home to the future leader of Libya
before he was expelled from the local school.

Faded billboards recreate scenes of Gaddafi in a desert tent, planning
the restructuring of Libya into a jamahiriya and "the era of the
masses" that he announced from Sebha in 1977. Looming menacingly above
the city, whose population has soared in the past few years to more
than 250,000, is an Italian-built fort that became a symbol of power
in one of the regime's most important strongholds, and one which
appears to remain in the control of Gaddafi loyalists.

Throughout this Libya conflict, attention has understandably been
focused on populous coastal cities such as Tripoli, Misurata and
Benghazi. The south, in contrast, has been a virtual black hole of
information, with few verifiable reports about the situation on the
ground. But taming this wild expanse of desert and rocky plains –
which covers an area larger than France and Spain combined – will be
increasingly vital for any new government claiming to control Libya.

This is not least because of the region's natural resources. Lying
west of Sebha is a fertile zone called the Wadi al Hayat – the Valley
of Life – which contains some of Libya's most important oil and water
reserves. An oilfield operated here by Spain's Repsol accounted alone
for more than 15% of Libya's pre-conflict crude production, while
other energy firms are also active in the area. Deep underground
aquifers in southern Libya supply water to the Great Man-Made River –
perhaps one of the few achievements of the Gaddafi regime that will
outlive it – that in turn provides about two-thirds of the country's
water supply.

Security is also a crucial consideration. Even before the uprising,
parts of the south were close to being lawless. Huge swathes of
uninhabited desert between the towns of Ghadames and Ghat were
frequently off-limits to travellers because of clashes with militants
or bandits infiltrating across the Algerian border. Ghat itself, a
garrison town close to the border with Chad and Niger and a world away
from Tripoli, has in recent years seen shootouts between
al-Qaida-linked fighters and Libyan security forces.

In the extreme central-south, which has no paved roads or mobile phone
network, are remnants of Libya's border war with Chad in the 1970s and
1980s which has left many areas heavily landmined. In the deep
south-east, the town of Al Kufra has a history of rejecting
centralised control from Tripoli. A rebellion by the local Tubu tribe
in 2009 was only quelled after the security forces sent in helicopter
gunships. Around the town are the skeletal remains of second world war
tanks and aircraft, a reminder of previous battles waged over this
patch of north African desert.

Ghadames, home to a Unesco world heritage site and one side of a
three-way border with Algeria and Tunisia, has reportedly been under
siege since the conflict began, with pro-Gaddafi soldiers joining
forces with Tuareg tribesmen and fighters from nearby towns that have
historically been antagonistic towards Ghadames.

Illegal immigration is an even bigger issue. Sometimes aided and
abetted by corrupt police or human traffickers, thousands of
sub-Saharan African nationals filter every year across Libya's porous
borders with Sudan, Niger or Chad and make their way northwards to the

Six months of fighting might have discouraged all but the most
motivated of these migrants, but peace will bring renewed immigration
problems not just for the new transitional authorities but also for
the EU, which had managed to reduce the number of immigrants reaching
Italy from Libya from 32,500 in 2008 to 7,300 in 2009 after closer
co-operation with the Libyan authorities.

It is almost impossible to ascertain the real situation in the south,
and recent events in Tripoli have shown the danger of jumping to
conclusions about who controls what in Libya. On Monday, the
transitional council's chairman, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, admitted in a
press conference that Sebha was still not under its control, while
there are even rumours that Gaddafi has moved the Central Bank's gold
reserves to the desert city. Other reports suggest there are serious
food shortages and large numbers of stranded migrants across the

It is equally difficult to predict how pro-Gaddafi elements in the
south might react when, or if, their leader and his sons are captured
or killed. They could melt away and quickly switch allegiance to the
transitional council, but they might also be inclined to fight for
their turf.

Opinions vary about the actual importance of Libya's tribal and
regional affiliations, but they will almost certainly be stronger in
the south than in other parts of the country, especially as it
contains a more diverse mix of ethnic groups and nationalities which
includes the Amazigh, Tubu and Tuareg, as well as large numbers of
nationals from Chad, Niger and Sudan.

Deep-seated distrust and old feuds may well violently rear their heads
in the collapse of any remaining law and order in the coming weeks,
while the abundance of weapons now circulating throughout the country
also bodes ill. Whoever wins the battle for Tripoli has not
necessarily won the war for Libya.

On Fri, Aug 26, 2011 at 12:06 AM, Patrick Bond <pbond at mail.ngo.za> wrote:
> History repeats itself, with mistakes of Iraq rehearsed afresh
> With Gaddafi at large, a guerrilla war eroding the new powers is inevitable
> The Independent    Thursday, 25 August 201
>  And in Sirte the "rebels" were defeated by the "loyalists" in this year's
> six-month war; we shall soon, no doubt, have to swap these preposterous
> labels – when those who support the pro-Western Transitional National
> Council will have to be called loyalists, and pro-Gaddafi rebels turn into
> the "terrorists" who may attack our new Western-friendly Libyan
> administration. Either way, Sirte, whose inhabitants are now supposedly
> negotiating with Gaddafi's enemies, may soon be among the most interesting
> cities in Libya.
Yoshie Furuhashi

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