30 October 2012, 10:39

Libyan army loses control over Bani Walid

Libyan army loses control over Bani Walid

Libyan Defense Minister Osama al-Jueili said Tuesday the army had lost control over Bani Walid, one of the last strongholds of Muammar Gaddafi’s loyalists.

“The chief of staff has no control over the town and therefore armed men are able to prevent families from coming back,” he said.

The city is completely empty, except for a handful of residents who are living in poor conditions. There is reported to be no activity and the city is said to be torn by shelling.

Fights over Bani Walid, located some 90km south of Tripoli, began in October. Authorities previously said they had the upper hand in the city but then confessed they weren’t in charge of the situation.

Bani Walid under rebel’s control, not government’s – local source

Official information came from Lybia on Wednesday saying that after a 3-week siege the government forces captured the town of Bani Walid, described as Libya's last stronghold loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, however, local sources have claimed that this is not true and the town is under militia’s control now, not the government’s.

People who have been in contact with their relative currently in Bani Walid say that Bani Walid has come under a violent attack by Misrata’s militias. Many victims are among children and elderly, as they say. The town is practically destroyed.

They also say that there is no electricity in the town, the mobile phone service has been switched off by the militia, and that people are scared.

Pro-government forces take control of old Gaddafi bastion Bani Walid

Forces loyal to Libya's government took control of the former Gaddafi stronghold of Bani Walid on Wednesday, commanders said, but pockets of resistance on the outskirts were reported.

Thousands have fled bloodshed this month between rival militias in the isolated hilltop town that was one of the last to surrender to rebels who overthrew Muammar Gaddafi last year.

The violence in Bani Walid has highlighted continued disorder in the oil-producing North African Arab country.

Pro-government fighters shouted "Bani Walid is free!" on Wednesday as dozens of pick-up trucks mounted with weapons filled a roundabout and streets in the centre of the town some 170 km (105 miles) south of the coastal capital Tripoli. 

Bent on making their mark on a town they say still harbors many followers of the late Gaddafi, pro-government forces fired rocket-propelled guns and anti-aircraft weapons at empty buildings. Heavy gunfire thundered non-stop and smoke billowed over part of the town. Shooting also clattered further off. 

The fighters cried "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great) and "Today Bani Walid is finished", honking their car horns and blasting patriotic music from their trucks. 

"On this day - October 24 - Bani Walid is free. There are no more Gaddafi militias inside," Fathi Shahoud, a commander of the Libya Shield grouping of militias aligned with the Defense Ministry, told Reuters. "Now we control the city and we will stay to ensure safety." 

Tarek Nouri Abu-Shabi, a 21-year-old member of the Free Libya militia, said: "The revolutionaries have been in control since yesterday. These are rebels from Misrata, Tripoli and from other places. There are still small pockets of fighting on the outskirts. We found weapons inside the town." 

Pro-government forces moved in on Bani Walid this month after Omran Shaban, the former rebel fighter who found Gaddafi hiding in a drain pipe in Sirte two months after rebels took Tripoli, died after being in detention there for two months. 

Forces answering to the defense and interior ministries set out to find those suspected of abducting and torturing Shaban before he was eventually released, and the national congress gave Bani Walid a deadline to hand them over. 

But the swoop on Bani Walid drove home the Tripoli government's inability to reconcile groups with long-running grievances, as well as its failure to bring many of the militias that deposed Gaddafi fully under its control.

Voice of Russia, Interfax

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