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Feb 5, 10:10 AM EST

Libya condemns militia attacks against Tawergha minority



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BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) -- Libya's U.N.-backed government in Tripoli has condemned attacks against hundreds of displaced black Libyans known as Tawergha who were still stranded in a camp on Monday after militiamen prevented them from returning home.

In a statement late Sunday, it said it is still working to ensure that the hundreds of families taking refuge in a camp near the town of Bani Walid can return to their home city, also known as Tawergha.

Witnesses reported that the Tawergha, who were due to return on Feb. 1 under an agreement with the neighboring city of Misrata, were barred from entry by militias who fired in the air and even shot up some cars.

"Yesterday evening, an armed group attacked the camp and drove the families back while shooting in the air, robbing cars and an ambulance," said Naser Alwafi, a Tawergha resident and eyewitness. "When some of Tawergha youth tried to stop them, the militias targeted them directly, injuring many and damaging some of the cars."

Misrata militiamen blame the Tawergha for siding with Libya's longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi during the 2011 uprising that overthrew and killed him. The Tawergha have been living in camps and makeshift housing across Libya since then, facing threats and extortion.

Libya was plunged into chaos after the uprising, and today is split between two governments, each of which relies on myriad militias.

In December, the Tripoli government said Tawergha families would be able to return to their hometown in February following a reconciliation deal. The U.N. has called for the deal to be implemented.

Tawergha was used as a staging ground for attacks on Misrata during the uprising. Anti-Gadhafi militias, mainly from Misrata, later drove out its residents, believing they had aided Gadhafi's forces. The town has been largely deserted since then.

Human Rights Watch estimates that about 40,000 have been displaced from the town.

On Wednesday, the municipal council of Misrata called on the Tripoli government to postpone its decision to allow Tawergha residents to return, saying escalations by unnamed parties had disrupted security arrangements. The government said it was looking into the issue and urged parties to the agreement to coordinate with the relevant authorities to ensure the safe return of Tawergha's residents.

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