Tawergha: A campaign of ethnic cleansing in Libya

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Tawergha, is, as of October 2011, a ghost town in Libya that is under administrative jurisdiction of the city of Misrata, which is 38 kilometers away.  It was the site of intense fighting during the Libyan civil war before its capture and ethnic cleasing by anti-Gaddafi forces in August 2011.

As of October 2011, the town has been largely cleared of its prewar population.  Tawergha means “the green island” in the Berber languge.  This city was famous for its palm trees which at one point were considered the true wealth in the city.  The city also produces significant amount of date fruits, including the Bersiel date, which is used as a component in ropes and other commodities.  In pre-colonial times, the work on the plantations was done by tens of thousands of black skinned slaves, making Tawergha the only town in coastal Libya with a black majority.

In the colonial period, these people were nominally emancipated from slavery, but their economic status remained very low.  In the Gaddafi-period, they were treated a lot better, receiving full education and development.  Many of its inhabitants achieved high positions in the army and civil service.

The city was also well know for its husbandry of cattle and chickens as well the consumer products produced from these animals.

During the Roman times, Tawergha gained a lot of attention due to its position and the connection that it had to the sand route that connected the city of Sirte along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea to Egypt.  Control of Tawergha helped the Romans cordinate control of Libya.

Tawergha lies on the road from Gaddafi’s hometown to the city of Misrata.  As a result, during the Libyan civil war, Tawergha was used as a centre of military operations against Misrata, which rose up against Gaddafi in February 2011.  When Gaddafi’s army weakened, Tawergha became the first target for Misratan brigades.  Gaddafi’s forces did not allow the population of Tawergha to flee, effectively using them as a human sheild.  On 12 August, anti-Gaddafi forces claimed to have captured Tawergha.

British journalist Andrew Gilligan visited Tawergha in September 2011 and found it virtually emptied of its inhabitants, who numbered around 30,000 before the war.  he reported that the Misrata Brigade, a semi-autonomous unit of the anti-Gaddafi National liberation Army, had engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing in response to the town’s support of Gaddafi during the siege on their city.  Many slogans he saw painted in and around Tawergha, as well as the accounts of anti-Gaddafi fighters and commanders whom he quoted, made reference to the dark pigmentation of many Tawergha citizens, with one sign referring to the Misrata Brigade as “the brigade for purging slaves (and) black  skin”‘  His report, published by The Sunday Telegraph on 11 September, quoted Ibrahim al-Halbous a brigade commander as saying, “Tawergha no longer exist, only Misrata” and another as asserting that the town’s former residents will only return “over our dead bodies”.  In February 2012, Amnesty International reported that Tawergha was empty and guarded against any returnees.  Militias from Misrata continue to hunt down and terrorize the displaced inhabitants of Tawergha across Libya.  Hundreds have been illegally arrested and tortured by militiamen in Misrata.

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