Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Destroyed school raises questions for Libyans

Textbooks are strewn across the floor of the computer and math lab. Pages of science homework are stamped with footprints. A cupboard has been smashed. Bullet holes puncture computer screens and frame door locks.
The Tareq Abu Zeyad middle school lies in ruins. Villagers in this isolated, dusty hamlet in Libya's western mountains say revolutionary forces carried out the attack last week to avenge their past support for Moammar Gadhafi.
The assault, part of a series of reported attacks throughout the region, is an example of what can go wrong as Libyans struggle with how to go forward after months of brutal civil war that often pitted tribes and families against one other.
"I don't know why they would take revenge on a classroom, on a school, which should be for the public good," said Mohammed Saleh, vice principal of the middle school in this town about 110 miles (180 kilometers) southwest of Tripoli. He shuffled through the lab room, shaking his head.
Saleh is a member of the al-Meshashya tribe, which pledged its allegiance to the regime at the beginning of the revolution and harbored Gadhafi's loyalists when they fled from cities liberated by the former rebels.
The al-Meshashyas, who populates this and other villages in the area, say the attacks are particularly wrong-headed because many residents silently supported the uprising but feared publicly voicing opposition to Gadhafi. The revolution began in mid-February in the eastern city of Benghazi and then spread across the nation.
Elsewhere in Libya, other tribes that professed loyalty to Gadhafi have come under fire as well. Many members of the Twarga tribe fled Misrata during the battles for the western city. Now dozens of Twarga families live in schools in Tripoli because revolutionary forces do not allow them to return to their homes in Misrata.
A military spokesman for the ruling National Transitional Council, Col. Ahmed Banim, dismissed all these allegations as an attempt to tarnish the image of fighters from the town of Zintan who proved vital in last month's push into Tripoli that forced Gadhafi into hiding.
"There is a focus to make the Zintan and Misrata revolutionaries look bad, but they did the most in the struggle to rid Libya of Gadhafi, and I do not like these accusations," Bani said.
He said that tribal leaders should take the initiative to resolve any problems.
Ibrahim Abu Shala, a leader of the al-Meshashyas, said that Gadhafi commanders visited village elders in March to persuade them to oppose the rebellion.
Abu Shala said he then persuaded the tribe to pledge loyalty to the regime and to harbor Gadhafi loyalists. He said he accomplished this through special envoys and state media propaganda and by playing on Bedouin tribal loyalties and ancient rifts between his tribe and one in Zintan.
"Being one of the biggest tribes in the western mountains, Gadhafi used us to hold back a rebellion in this part of the country," said Abu Shala.
The regime armed families and young men with new weapons, mainly Kalashnikovs and hand-held machine guns.
Abu Shala said that those supporting the revolution were outnumbered and threatened into silence by Gadhafi fighters who used the strategic mountainous terrain as hiding locations.
But once it looked imminent that Tripoli would fall and the entire country would soon come under revolutionary command, the al-Meshashyas said they officially declared allegiance to the revolutionaries on Aug. 8 — nearly two weeks before the rebels entered the capital.
"We heard that the revolutionaries announced that we had to hand over our arms, so we met with them and they gave us two hours to do so," said Amer Ramadan, who attended the meeting between the tribal representatives and the anti-Gadhafi rebels from Zintan.
He said the Aug. 21 meeting was very cordial but that they were given only two hours to hand over all the weapons — even though there had not been a call from the National Transitional Council to collect weapons in the cities.More...

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