Hilltop tribe’s bitterness a challenge for Libya peace effort

BANI WALID, Libya: Elders of a powerful tribe that defended the regime of former leader Muammar Gaddafi have a message for the United Nations as it tries to broker peace in Libya – talk to us or you will fail.
The UN launched a new round of negotiations in September to unite a country that splintered along political, ideological and tribal lines during and after the 2011 Nato-backed uprising that unseated Gaddafi.
Western officials hope the talks will pave the way for elections next year and produce a functioning government that could curb militant activity, tackle migrant smuggling and stabilise the oil-rich nation’s rapidly deteriorating economy.
But conversations with the robed elders of the Warfalla tribe at their meeting in a hall in the former Gaddafi stronghold of Bani Walid show how difficult that will be.
Located 145 km southeast of Tripoli, the isolated hilltop town did not accept the fall of Gaddafi in 2011 and held out against rebels two months longer than the capital.
“We are for dialogue… but the UN has never contacted us,” said Muftah Eftais, leader of the council of elders.
Winning over losers of the 2011 revolution will be key to stabilising the North African country.
The Warfalla account for 1.5 million out of six million Libyans, according to the elders council.
“We are represented in all regions. If the UN wants a solution for Libya you need to talk (to us) the tribes,” said Eftais, drawing words of support from the assembled tribesmen.
The UN Libya office said its envoy, Ghassan Salame, met a group of Libyan notables including a Warfalla representative from Bani Walid in late October, and that other members of the UN mission had been in touch with town officials on political, human rights, humanitarian and economic matters.
At least two Warfalla delegates have also taken part in the latest talks in Tunis, a UN official said, but Eftais said the elders did not feel represented by them, highlighting Libya’s multi-layered divisions.
Bani Walid residents express their loyalty to the old regime much more openly. In the main square a Gaddafi-era green flag is hoisted next to pictures of “martyrs” killed in the 2011 violence and subsequent fighting.
The elders govern Bani Walid and control their own armed force, in the absence of any national authority or army. Asked if life was better under Gaddafi, several exclaimed: “We were in paradise.”
— Reuters