Residents halted from returning to Libyan ghost town

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Residents from a Libyan town that was emptied and largely destroyed after the country’s 2011 revolution said they were prevented from starting a long-planned return on Thursday.

An estimated 40,000 people from Tawergha, 38 km (24 miles) south of the port city of Misrata, have been displaced in camps across Libya for more than six years.

They were chased out by Misratan armed groups in retribution after their town was used by forces loyal to former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi as he attacked Misrata during a Nato-backed uprising.

Lengthy negotiations led to a plan backed by the internationally recognized government in Tripoli for returns to start at the beginning of February, though the abandoned town is largely ruined and does not have working infrastructure.

About 150 displaced residents had left Benghazi, nearly 700 km east of Tawergha, in a convoy on Wednesday. They said they were prepared to camp in Tawergha if necessary, but turned back to their overnight stopping point in Harawa after trying to advance west toward Sirte, which is controlled by Misratan forces.

“Now we have returned to Harawa because the security situation in the area where we were wasn’t good,” Mohamed al-Tawerghi, a community spokesman, told Reuters.

Roads between Misrata and Tawergha were also reportedly blocked by Misratan groups.

Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli and Ahmed Elumami; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Andrew Heavens