Ethnic Tubus fear southern Libya offensive

The self-styled Libyan National Army is carrying out an offensive in the south of the country, leading to fears of persecution within the marginalized Tubu community. (AFP)
Updated 22 February 2019
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Ethnic Tubus fear southern Libya offensive

  • The ethnic group fears vengeance by Arab communities that have joined an offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army
  • Long marginalized, Tubus live in the Tibesti region, which straddles Libya, Chad and Niger, an area long at the mercy of roaming rebel groups, traffickers and extremists

OUBARI: In the southern Libyan city of Oubari, shops are shuttered and tension is palpable, as residents fear an imminent incursion by forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar.

We “dread the repercussions of military operations that are unfolding on the edge of town,” said 22-year-old hospital administrator Ali Senoussi, speaking on behalf of his Tubu community.

Many residents in Oubari — some 900 kilometers (560 miles) south of Tripoli — are Tubu.

The ethnic group fears vengeance by Arab communities that have joined an offensive by Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), which is on the outskirts of the city.

Long marginalized, Tubus live in the Tibesti region, which straddles Libya, Chad and Niger, an area long at the mercy of roaming rebel groups, traffickers and extremists.

“We are residents of this region. Our support and love for it is immense,” said 22-year-old Senoussi, clothed in a traditional head robe to screen desert sun and wind.

“We cannot accept being involved in wars with Arab tribes that fight alongside Haftar,” he insisted, sipping tea in the courtyard of a hospital where he works as an administrator.

Tubus live in the Tibesti region, which straddles Libya, Chad and Niger.

The LNA says it is seeking to purge “terrorist and criminal groups,” and some accuse the Tubus of supporting Chadian rebels.

But Senoussi dismisses the offensive as “a threat to the social peace of the whole region.”

Tubu lawmakers even allege that ethnic cleansing is under way.

The community was among the first to join the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed Muammar Qaddafi.

But the former dictator’s downfall by no means improved Tubus’ standing in Libya.

Despite being home to some of the country’s biggest oilfields, the region is regularly hit by shortages of all kinds — petrol, electricity, gas cylinders and even bread.

Prices have rocketed on the black market.

Senoussi said the lack of fuel had forced him to leave his car at home and walk to work.

“Most public sector workers prefer to walk” to avoid long queues that have become a fixture of daily life at gas stations, he said.

The intensified chaos of recent years means that the southern border areas are more than ever a haven for extremists, traffickers and rebels.

These groups exploit a security vacuum that is exacerbated by an ongoing power struggle between a UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli and a rival administration loyal to Haftar in northeastern Libya.

Tribal and ethnic quarrels between the Tubus, Tuaregs and Arab groups over trafficking have added fuel to the fire.

“We are Muslims, but we have a culture and language that we share with our cousins from Chad, Niger and Sudan,” explained Ali Yahyia, a Tubu expert on his community.

But this does not undermine “our support for the Libyan homeland,” he insisted.

The LNA launched its ongoing military campaign in mid-January and on Wednesday night entered Murzuk, another southern Libyan city home to many Tubus.

Renowned for a fortress that dates back more than seven centuries, much of the historic settlement now resembles a ghost town.

Murzuk’s windswept streets are littered with garbage.

Like Oubari, shops are closed and people are scared to circulate.

Even bakers — hit by a lack of flour — cannot raise their blinds.

“The city faces numerous problems at the service level, particularly at the hospital where we have only one doctor,” deplored municipal councillor Ibrahim Omar.

“With the military operations that are ongoing, the doctors refuse to come, fearing for their lives,” he said.

If the situation persists, “food stocks will in the end be exhausted.”


Iran must stop supporting militias for peace offer to be taken seriously: Expert 

Updated 26 May 2019
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Iran must stop supporting militias for peace offer to be taken seriously: Expert 

  • Iran has for long pursued a policy of outsourcing its meddling to external militias
  • Among these are the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen

JEDDAH: Iran needs to dismantle its proxies and end its interventions in Arab affairs before seeking to normalize relations with its Gulf neighbors, a political expert told Arab News on Sunday.

“The Gulf countries have been calling for normal relations with their neighbors for years, but their calls have fallen on deaf ears on the Iranian side,” Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international relations scholar, said.

Accusing Tehran of “playing games,” Al-Shehri described Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s suggestion that Iran wanted to improve relations with its Gulf neighbors as worthless “as long as it continues meddling in the affairs of other countries, and fails to halt its evil militias from sabotaging and destabilizing regional security.”

Iran has for long pursued a policy of outsourcing its meddling to external militias, which indirectly supports, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. 

Zarif, who is on a two-day visit to Iraq, told a joint news conference in Baghdad with his Iraqi counterpart Mohammed Al-Hakim that Iran wants to build balanced relations with its Gulf Arab neighbors and had proposed signing a non-aggression pact with them.

However, Al-Shehri said that Tehran needs to address three key issues — its nuclear program; its terrorist militias, which have been spreading chaos in the Gulf region and beyond; and its ballistic missile program — before making any such proposals.

“The question is, would Iran be ready to give up all three files? If they want their neighbors to accept them and normalize relations with them, they have to be honest and stop playing games,” he said.

Al-Shehri described Zarif’s regional tour as an attempt to rally support and send a false message that Iran has friends and allies who would stand by them in their crisis with the US.

“Where were these countries when Iran’s terrorist proxies in Yemen, the Houthi militias, launched missiles and drones attacking the holiest Islamic site in Makkah and other Saudi facilities?” Al-Shehri asked.

Zarif said Iran will defend itself against any military or economic aggression, calling on European states to do more to preserve a nuclear agreement his country signed.

“We will defend (ourselves) against any war efforts, whether it be an economic war or a military one, and we will face these efforts with strength,” he said.

Strains have increased between Iran and the US following this month’s sabotage attack on oil tankers in the Gulf. Washington and other regional allies have concluded that Iran is most likely behind the attacks. 

Tehran has distanced itself from the bombings, but the US has sent an aircraft carrier and extra 1,500 troops to the Gulf, sparking concerns over the risk of conflict in the volatile region.