Libyan tribal leaders call for united front

Country's largest tribe, based in strategic city of Baniwalid, holds key meeting in Turkey with the opposition movement.

    The Warfalla were reportedly supporting Gaddafi around the Misurata area, but this meeting may change that [Reuters]

    More than 100 community and tribal leaders from Libya have met with members of the opposition National Transitional Council at a conference in Turkey, in a bid to show a united front against Muammar Gaddafi.

    Most of the tribal leaders who gathered in Istanbul on Saturday and Sunday, were from the powerful Warfalla clan based in Baniwalid, a city in western Libya.

    The delegates were calling for an end to the violence in Libya and the departure of Libyan leader Gaddafi and his sons.

    An organiser of the conference told Al Jazeera that Gaddafi and his forces became aware of the conference yesterday and then moved in to seize control of Baniwalid.

    "Fierce clashes broke out between Gaddafi's forces and Warfalla members in Baniwalid, and at least 11 people died, including the brother of a conference delegate," the source said.

    Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught, reporting from Istanbul, said that the delegates were mostly senior professionals from both inside Libya as well as those who have been in exile for the last few years.

    "They all stood up together and presented their declaration and sang the old Libyan national anthem - I watched grown men break down in tears and sob all their way through this," our correspondent said.

    Strategic importance

    Baniwalid is said to hold a position of vital strategic importance, and was thus being aggressively targeted by Gaddafi, who has focused his security forces there to instill fear.

    "Warfalla is the largest tribe - over one-sixth of the total population of Libya, numbering more than a million members," our correspondent said.

    "They are a tribe whose loyalty has been vigorously, and perhaps violently, sought after by Gaddafi and his forces. He has threatened, bribed, jailed and now attacked them."

    Our correspondent said the attacks occurred because Gaddafi and his supporters did not want to see this meeting "happen in Turkey where people can speak freely".

    In the final statement of the conference, the delegates called on their "brothers in Zletin, Tarhuna, Khums, Msellata and Sirte to join the revolution and to put a swift end to this tyranny".

    "We caution all other groups who are still fighting for this regime that continues day in day out to violate all forms of human rights, and we warn everyone involved  that they will be accountable for their actions," the statement said.

    Clear stance

    At the end of the conference, our correspondent reported that the delegates said to Gaddafi: "Do not leave Libya because we want to bring you to justice, we will have you tried for the 42 years that you have enslaved us."

    Al Jazeera's Tony Birtley reports from the frontlines near the city of Misurata where fighting is ongoing

    The meeting has been billed as a possible game-changer for the Gaddafi government as the Warfalla are said to have been supporting Gaddafi militarily, especially around the western city of Misurata.

    Their position has not been clear throughout the conflict in Libya, but this meeting seems to have shed some light on their position.

    In their statement, the delegates addressed their "families in our beloved Baniwalid" asking them not to "create rift between you and your fellow Libyans".

    "The National Transitional Council (NTC) is a keeper of the safety and security for our great nation during the transitional period," their statement said, "after the fall of this brutal dictatorship, and encompasses several members of our great city."

    Led by Mustafa Abdul Jalil, who won the respect of the opposition for criticising Gaddafi while he was the justice minister, the NTC is Libya's only interlocutor with the West, led by France, Britain and the US.

    'Crimes against humanity'

    Meanwhile, on Monday, two French lawyers said they planned to bring legal proceedings against French President Nicolas Sarkozy for crimes against humanity over the NATO-led military campaign in Libya.

    Ibrahim Boukhzam, a Libyan justice ministry official in Tripoli said Jacques Verges and Roland Dumas had offered to represent families he said were victims of the NATO bombing campaign.

    Dumas said the NATO mission, which was meant to protect civilians, was killing them. He denounced what he described as "a brutal assault against a sovereign country" and said he was ready to defend Gaddafi should he ever be brought before the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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