Diana Eltahawy is a researcher for Amnesty International. Currently she is in the quiet Tunisian border town of Dhehiba, which has seen an influx of refugees from Libya’s Western Mountains region. The largest refugee camp houses 1,207 people, mainly women and children. They come from places such as Nalout, Ifrin, Zentan, Kikla and Jadu. In late February, during the start of the uprising, this region declared its support for the oppositon Benghazi and they too came out in numbers to demonstrate against the regime. As a consequence, they have been under continuous siege by Gaddafi’s forces.
People at the camp told us that they decided to flee their homes after Colonel al-Gaddafi’s forces intensified their shelling of the area in early April, though many had been already displaced from their homes in the Nafousa Mountain area and had been moving from one town to try and escape the attacks and fighting. Women whom we interviewed had been especially fearful at the prospect of their towns and villages being invaded by forces loyal to Colonel al-Gaddafi because, they said, they had heard about threats of rape and abduction.
Families told Amnesty International that many local residents had disappeared and are believed to be held by Colonel al-Gaddafi’s forces. Victims particularly included people who had ventured outside the opposition strongholds in a search for petrol or basic necessities, both unavailable in the cities under siege. Since, there has been no news of the fate or whereabouts of many of them; others, however, have been shown on Libyan state television “confessing” to having been pressured to act against Libya’s “best interests”.
We met the relatives of several such victims of enforced disappearance but in all cases they insisted that we do not publicize their names for fear that this will place them in greater jeopardy and also put at risk other family members still in the Nafousa Mountain area.
One man said his elder brother, a 37-year-old father from Nalout, had not been seen since early March when he set out by car with another relative and a friend to travel from Nalout to Tigi, further south, to get spare parts for his vehicle. His family, understandably, became very worried when they did not return and started calling him continuously on his mobile phone. Eventually, he was able to pick up their call and replied hastily, saying: “ I am going to Tripoli, take care of the kids.” Since then his phone has been switched off. His family believe that he is being detained in Ain Zara Prison in Tripoli, but they have had no news or conformation of this from the Libyan authorities. His distraught brother showed us a video recording of the missing man waving the opposition flag during peaceful protests in Nalout, just days before his enforced disappearance.
In another case, a man in his fifties was driving from Ifrin to Gherian, a town under the control of al-Gaddafi forces, on 26 March in order to seek petrol when he was stopped at a military checkpoint. As he approached it, he called his wife on his mobile phone to tell her, but it was then quickly disconnected. His wife and five children have had no word from him or news of his whereabouts in the three weeks since then. Prior to his disappearance, he had been active in obtaining and distributing basic goods and supplies to families in Ifrin.
People who had fled from Zintan told similar stories. Relatives tolpd us of the case of a 37-year-old married man who was stopped by al-Gaddafi forces at a checkpoint in Gherian while driving home from Tripoli on 21 February. Since then, they have not been able to trace his whereabouts or find out why or in what conditions he is being held.
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