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Cablegate: Tribal Violence in Kufra

DE RUEHTRO #0889/01 3211617
O P 161616Z NOV 08




E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/16/2018

CLASSIFIED BY: John T. Godfrey, CDA, Embassy Tripoli, U.S. Dept of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d) 1. (C) Summary: Mainstream and opposition media began reporting November 4 on clashes between Government of Libya (GOL) security forces and locals in and around the oasis town of Kufra, located in southeastern Libya near the borders with Egypt, Sudan and Chad. Business contacts with representative offices there confirmed that violent clashes had occurred, that large numbers of GOL security forces were in and around the area, that significant damage was inflicted and that there were casualties. Opposition websites and media have attributed this year's outbreak of violence (there were parallel clashes in 2006 and 2007) to efforts by the government to deny Toubou tribesmen identity and ration cards and access to schools and medical clinics. Alternatively, reliable contacts have reported that clashes over disputed land on/about November 2 near Kufra between members of the Arab Zawiya tribe and the Toubou tribe (which includes Chadian and Libyan citizens) resulted in the death of several members of the Zawiya tribe, which subsequently retaliated, prompting GOL security forces to intervene. National (Libyan-Chadian), ethnic (Arab-African) and tribal (Zawiya-Toubou) tensions were already high due to the recent influx of large numbers of Chadian refugees and reports that the GOL intended to deport large numbers of Chadians from the town. Despite the fact that the GOL dispatched some 600 troops, this year's violence proved harder to quell. A physical cordon around Kufra remains in place; it is unclear whether the airport has been reopened. Some mobile telephone and landline service has been restored and some schools in the area have reopened. The land border crossing near Kufra had re-opened, but traffic was moving very slowly. There are credible reports that GOL security forces have begun large-scale deportations of illegal immigrants - mostly Chadians - in response to the violence and that they would destroy the migrants' shantytown in Kufra, which was the scene of some of the most violent clashes. Some Chadian Toubous who have been resident in Kufra for decades fear they will be deported together with more recent arrivals. The clashes highlight the contradiction between Muammar al-Qadhafi's stated desire to posit himself as a leader of a united Africa and his regime's history of discrimination against non-Arabs in Libya. End summary. BACKGROUND 2. (C) There are large numbers of Toubou tribesmen, many of whom are darker skinned than most Libyans, in and around Kufra. Many have lived in the area for decades and supported al-Qadhafi's regime during its periodic contretemps with Chad and Sudan. Some of the longer-term residents have obtained Libyan residency or citizenship; however, many have not and are considered Chadian by the GOL and other Libyan residents of Kufra. The number of Toubou and other Chadians in and around Kufra has increased markedly in recent years, prompted in part by violence in neighboring Darfur and Eastern Chad. There was a significant influx in connection with the February 2008 rebel offensive against N'djamena and a large shantytown developed near the center of Kufra. The eyesore of ramshackle buildings, together with increased crime and violence that many Libyan residents attributed to the recently arrived illegal migrants, disrupted the town's ethnic equilibrium and contributed to national (Libyan-Chadian), ethnic (Arab-African) and tribal (Zawiya-Toubou) tensions. There have also been allegations of Toubous engaging in cross-border smuggling of weapons, food, fuel into Darfur & Eastern Chad; Toubou leaders claim their tribesmen were accused of supporting Chadian rebels and/or President Deby's regime in N'djamena, and of actively subverting the GOL. The main actors comprised Libyans of Arab descent, Libyans of the Toubou tribe, Chadians of the Toubou tribe and other Chadian illegal migrants. 3. (C) In addition, GOL officials stopped issuing Toubou tribesmen identity and ration cards in August 2008; Toubous also had difficulty enrolling their children in schools and were denied access to medical care at GOL facilities. The Toubou Front for the Salvation of Libya (TFSL), headed by Norway-based Issa Abd al-Majid Mansour, has claimed that some Toubous were "stripped of their citizenship"; however, it appears this may be a reference to Toubous who had not obtained Libyan citizenship TRIPOLI 00000889 002 OF 004 and who were either denied identity cards or had them confiscated. The developments coincided with reports in October-November that the GOL was preparing to deport large numbers of Toubous and Chadians as part of a broader, Libya-wide campaign to deport illegal migrants. (Note: Large numbers of sub-Saharan African illegal migrants were detained and deported in August and September as part of an ongoing campaign to limit the number of illegal migrants in Libya. End note.) Together with longstanding disputes over land ownership, the situation was combustible. VIOLENCE ERUPTS 4. (C) Accounts differ as to what sparked the clashes. The TFSL and Paris-based Arab Commission for Human Rights claim the clashes began on November 3 when Toubous, angry over lack of access to medical care, ration cards and schools, set fire to local GOL offices in protest. Alternatively, several reliable contacts have reported variations of a story involving Toubou tribesmen who recently obtained forged documents attesting that they owned land in the area, prompting disputes with Zawiya tribesmen, who claimed the land was theirs. Post's information suggests clashes on/about November 2 near Kufra between members of the Zawiya and the Toubou tribes resulted in the death of several members of the Zawiya tribe. The Zawiya retaliated, attacking Toubou homes and the shantytown, prompting GOL security forces to intervene. (Note: The Zawiya are reportedly well-armed with hunting rifles and automatic rifles; they were equipped with the latter by the GOL during the Libya-Chad war over the disputed Ouzou Strip in the 1980's. The Toubou are reportedly less well-armed, carrying hunting rifles and machetes. End note.) 5. (C) The outbreak of violence appears to have united long-term Toubou residents of Kufra, Chadian Toubous and other Chadian illegal migrants against the Zawiya and GOL. Reliable contacts say the Toubous wanted to pressure Zawiya tribesmen to return to their homelands near Jalu, some 700 kilometers to the north. The Federal Express station manager in xxxxxxxxxxxx confirmed open source reports that some Toubous hoisted Chadian flags over buildings - including government offices - in Kufra shortly after the violence began, exacerbating tensions. His office was looted and heavily damaged. A representative xxxxxxxxxxxx(strictly protect source), a large holding company with import/export, shipping, distribution and logistics interests, told us 35 of the company's trucks had been burned and their office looted at a large transportation and logistics facility they maintain in Kufra. The company transports sugar, oil, rice and other food staples into Chad and Sudan; the UN Resident Representative express concern that there could be related shortages of staples, particularly in Eastern Chad. French Embassy contacts, xxxxxxxxxxxx all confirmed open source reports that GOL security offices and vehicles had been attacked and burned. The xxxxxxxxxxxx confirmed opposition website reports that many shops and homes had been burned, and that there were violent clashes over a period of about a week (circa November 2-November 10), with a number of casualties. French Embassy contacts in Kufra said there had been deaths every night during the week of November 2-9. THE GOL REACTS 6. (C) After the initial clashes, GOL security forces put a cordon around Kufra on/about November 4, closing roads and the airport. Post sent a warden message on November 5 alerting U.S. citizens to the possibility of demonstrations and warning them to avoid the area. Contacts reported that the forces were regular army and national police (the latter are distinguished by the their blue-gray fatigues). Mobile and landline telephone communications were also cut. French Embassy contacts in Kufra said the GOL initially deployed some 600 troops, who failed to quell the violence. xxxxxxxxxxxx citing information from a relative in the GOL's security services, put the number at 400-500. Opposition websites reported circa November 9 that the GOL dispatched additional reinforcements to Kufra via helicopter and truck, together with helicopter TRIPOLI 00000889 003 OF 004 gunships. (Note: Contacts have confirmed the presence of helicopters in and around Kufra in connection with the violence; Post is unable to confirm whether any were gunships. End contact.) The scope of the violence appears to have surprised GOL security forces. Noting that similar violent clashes had erupted in 2006 and 2007, the representative xxxxxxxxxxxx noted that while "such episodes are usually over in a couple of hours, this has lasted days". OPPOSITION, AL-SHARQ AL-AWSAT ATTEMPT TO FAN FLAMES 7. (C) Media and opposition reports, claiming contact with individuals on the ground in Kufra, claimed that there were shortages of food and water, and that wounded civilians did not have access to medical care. Media and opposition reports also claimed that GOL security forces were deliberately targeting unarmed civilians, who accounted for all of of the fatalities; however, xxxxxxxxxxxx reported seeing the bodies of two soldiers in uniform, partially covered by tarpaulins, near a checkpoint on the city's outskirts as he drove his family out of the city on November 5. Large numbers of women and children (schools were closed on November 4), mostly Arabs, were evacuated from the town during the period November 4-7; many reportedly decamped to Benghazi to wait out the fighting. xxxxxxxxxxxx told us that there were 11 fatalities and 35 wounded as of (three Libyans and eight Chadians) as of November 9. 8. (C) Reports appeared on November 10-11 on opposition websites and in the al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper that violence in Kufra had spread to Benghazi, where clashes between youths and GOL security services were reported to have occurred. Post canvassed multiple contacts in and around Benghazi on November 12-15, including a resident of one of the neighborhoods in which the clashes reportedly occurred. None had seen or heard anything confirming that clashes or demonstrations had occurred. Neither Post's Econoff, who was in Benghazi November 6-9, nor the U.K. Embassy's Poloff, who was there November 10-12, saw or heard anything suggesting the reports of clashes in Benghazi were accurate. (Note: A number of local observers have commented on the fact that al-Sharq al-Awsat is majority Saudi-owned and the ongoing Saudi-Libyan contretemps, implying that the apparently unsubstantiated reports that violence in Libya had spread was motivated by the Saudis' desire to embarrass al-Qadhafi. End note.) An opposition website report picked up by UPI claimed on November 14 that the GOL had taken steps to quash internal reporting about the violence in Kufra. While state media has been quiet about the situation, the show referenced in the UPI report dealt with other political issues. Locally-based stringers for international news agencies, who have excellent contacts within the GOL, told us officials have refused to discuss the situation in Kufra with them. 9. (C) Opposition websites have sought to make political hay, criticizing the GOL for its allegedly excessive response to the violence, its failure to provide food, water and medical supplies and the silence of GOL officials about the clashes. In a statement on November 11, the TFSL threatened to sabotage the al-Sarir oil field, located some 400 kilometers from Kufra. (Note: The al-Sarir field is Libya's second largest after the Waha field and produces some 230,000 barrels/day of sweet, light crude. International oil company contacts assessed the risk to the field from Kufra-related violence as being relatively low. End note.) CURRENT SITUATION 10. (C) Citing a conversation with xxxxxxxxxxxx, xxxxxxxxxxxx described the situation on November 14 as "largely under control, but still simmering". The airport in Kufra had been closed since November 4 and xxxxxxxxxxxx was told the cordon around the city would remain in place until about November 20. Statoil, which operates an oil rig about 120 kilometers west of Kufra, had been scheduled TRIPOLI 00000889 004 OF 004 to fly a rig team into Kufra November 11-12 and had been unable to do so. As of November 14, they had not been able to reschedule the trip. xxxxxxxxxxxx was told on November 11 that the situation in Kufra had calmed considerably and that GOL security forces had standing orders to protect his organization's offices. (Note: A key humanitarian relief corridor used by WFP and the UN extends from Kufra into Darfur and Eastern Chad. End note.) The land border crossing near Kufra had re-opened, but traffic was moving very slowly. xxxxxxxxxxxx(strictly protect source) was told on/about November 11 that GOL security forces would deport all illegal immigrants in Kufra - mostly Chadians - within a week and would destroy the shantytown near the town center. There are reports that deportations have already begun; there are reportedly concerns among longtime Chadian Toubous resident in Kufra that they will be deported together with more recent arrivals. Some schools in and around Kufra re-opened on November 11. Multiple contacts have reported that a large security and police presence will remain in Kufra for some time to preclude a resurgence of the violence. Some well-informed contacts have reported that Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi had dispatched a small team from his Qadhafi Development Foundation to help mediate between GOL security forces and Toubou and Zawiya tribesmen. 11. (C) Comment: The clashes highlight the contradiction between al-Qadhafi's stated desire to posit himself as a leader of a united Africa and his regime's history of discrimination against non-Arabs, many of whom are darker-skinned, in Libya. It also throws into sharp relief the difference between the littoral, where the reach of the GOL's security apparatus is long, and the areas along Libya's long land borders, which are more porous. The presence of weak and failing states to the south complicates the security challenge the GOL faces in attempting to improve its capacity to secure its frontiers against illegal migrants and smugglers. An additional issue is that al-Qadhafi's regime has longstanding contacts with Toubou tribesmen in the Tibesti Mountains area spanning the Libya-Chad border. Many of the weapons used in the recent round of fighting in Kufra were reportedly supplied by the GOL to Arab and Chadian tribesmen, whom the GOL has historically used as proxies in its various activities along the border. End comment. GODFREY

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