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Cablegate: Libya Seeks to Downplay Tribal Violence in Kufra

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DE RUEHTRO #0921/01 3351452
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O P 301452Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4189
INFO RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO PRIORITY 1322
RUEHTU/AMEMBASSY TUNIS PRIORITY 0682
RUEHAS/AMEMBASSY ALGIERS PRIORITY 0826
RUEHRB/AMEMBASSY RABAT PRIORITY 0772
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 0632
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 0945
RUEHNJ/AMEMBASSY NDJAMENA PRIORITY 0149
RUEHLG/AMEMBASSY LILONGWE PRIORITY 0005
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 4711

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000921

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR NEA/MAG, AF/C

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/30/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PTER CASC ASEC PHUM PREF SOCI KPAO LY
CD, SA
SUBJECT: LIBYA SEEKS TO DOWNPLAY TRIBAL VIOLENCE IN KUFRA
REF:
A) TRIPOLI 889,
B) TRIPOLI 679,
C) TRIPOLI 530

CLASSIFIED BY: Chris Stevens, CDA, Embassy Tripoli, Department of State.
REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)

1. (C) Summary: In an apparent response to persistent reports by opposition and international media about tribal violence in Kufra, an oasis town located in southeastern Libya, the Government of Libya (GOL) recently staged a meeting in which tribal leaders pledged loyalty to Muammar al-Qadhafi and orchestrated a tightly-controlled visit to the town by selected journalists. The GOL's reaction - a heavy response by security forces, a press blackout during the events, and carefully managed revisionist press reports that blame foreign media for distorting facts - is similar to the tack it took in response to the Benghazi riots in 2006. End summary.

2. (SBU) According to the state-owned Jamahiriya News Agency (JANA), GOL officials staged in Kufra on November 20 a meeting of Toubou tribal leaders, who pledged their personal allegiance to Muammar al-Qadhafi and his Jamahiriya political philosophy, and rejected as externally-generated propaganda reports that there had been violent clashes between Toubou tribesmen (which include Chadian and Libyan citizens) and Zawiya tribesmen (who are ethnically Arab) in early November (ref A). In a meeting broadcast on television by JANA, Toubou leaders rejected the Norway-based Toubou Front for the Salvation of Libya (TFSL) and its leader Issa Abd al-Majid Mansour, calling the latter "corrupt and irresponsible" and saying the TFSL did not/not speak for Toubous. They dismissed reports in international media based on information from the TFSL as "media excitement aiming to mislead public opinion". In a statement at the meeting's conclusion, Toubou leaders hailed al-Qadhafi as " ... the maker of the historic glories, the wise man of Africa, the founder of its unity and the strong advocate of its security, stability and freedom". The statement also called on Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, son of and potential heir to Muammar al-Qadhafi, to continue his project for Libyan youth and to remain involved in the country's affairs. (Note: In a speech to the Third Annual Libyan Youth Forum on August 20, Saif al-Islam said he had achieved his major goals and intended to withdraw from politics. End note.)

3. (C) Reports of the Toubou tribal leaders' gathering were carried widely in state-owned Libyan press, which also publicized a visit to Kufra by journalists on November 20, organized by GOL officials to coincide with the Toubous' meeting. Participation in the trip was tightly-controlled - locally-based correspondents for al-Jazeera and the BBC were not allowed to go. xxxxxxxxxxxx(strictly protect source) learned about the trip beforehand and asked to go, but were declined permission to do so by Libya's Foreign Media Authority, which told them the trip was by invitation only. Reuters stringer Salah Serrai (strictly protect), who participated in the trip, said 20-25 journalists - mostly from Libyan state-owned news - took part in the one-day visit. Journalists were given "an unofficial tour" of Kufra, but did not have an opportunity to speak with anyone independent of their GOL minders. Serrai, who had visited Kufra previously to report on World Food Program efforts to stage food shipments into Darfur, said shops and schools were open (we'd heard previously that some had begun to re-open in mid-November) and that signs of damage were not obvious in the areas they visited. (Note: Contacts at businesses with offices in Kufra said a major clean-up operation had been begun immediately after the worst violence ended on/about November 14. End note.)

4. (C) In the aftermath of the press corps' visit, state-owned media characterized the clashes as "a minor incident between young members from two tribes in the town" and said reports of violence had been inflated by international news organizations. Toubou tribal leader Juma Maly was quoted as saying that the clashes were "quickly resolved by elderly tribal leaders and civic figures". As reported ref A, contacts suggested the violence began on/about November 2 and lasted in earnest for at least a week. There were reports on/about November 14 that while the situation was largely under control, there were still sporadic clashes between Toubous, Zawiya tribesmen and GOL security forces. Contacts reported that more than 30 people were killed and several hundred injured.

5. (C) Comment: As in parallel cases such as the 2006 riots in TRIPOLI 00000921 002 OF 002 Benghazi, the GOL suppressed real-time coverage of recent events in Kufra and has since rolled out a carefully managed series of revisionist reports in state-owned media that minimized the extent of the conflict, blamed foreign media and opposition for exaggerated reports and highlighted pledges of loyalty to al-Qadhafi. The clear premium is on maintaining the appearance of political order, underscoring the ostensibly universal popularity of al-Qadhafi's rule and minimizing any hint of ethnic or tribal tension. The latter is a neuralgic issue for a regime that, despite its professions of tolerance, publicly (and inaccurately) maintains that Libya is an ethnically and religiously homogeneous state of Arabs. As reported ref C, al-Qadhafi privately told Berber leaders in May that " ... you can call yourselves whatever you want inside your homes -- Berbers, Children of Satan, whatever -- but you are only Libyans when you leave your homes". End comment. STEVENS

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