TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Gunmen killed five Libyan refugees at their camp in a Tripoli suburb Monday, residents and hospital sources said, underscoring the volatility in the country months after Muammar Gaddafi’s overthrow.
Residents of the camp, black Libyans originally from the town of Tawergha, say they are being persecuted over accusations they collaborated with Gaddafi during the country’s revolution.
Many say they are also regularly mistaken for sub-Saharan African mercenaries who revolutionary fighters said fought for Gaddafi in the war.
The attackers came to the gate of the makeshift settlement in a disused naval academy in Janzour saying they wanted to arrest young men, and opened fire as people gathered to protest, said residents.
“Men from Misrata came to the camp at 10 o’clock. We knew they were from Misrata because it was written all over their cars,” camp resident Huda Bel-Eid said at Tripoli Medical Hospital.
“Around 15 of them started shooting us. All the women escaped but the young men stayed. My brother was there and I went to help him because he was shot in the head and neck, then they shot me (in the leg),” she added.
Gaddafi’s forces used Tawergha as a base to besiege and shell the coastal city of Misrata during last year’s civil war. Its residents say they were held hostage by Gaddafi’s men and did not collaborate.
Hospital staff said five people were killed and two injured in the violence. Officials from Misrata military council denied involvement. “There is no way Misratans were involved,” Fathi Bashaga, a member of Misrata military council, said.
Officials from the defense and interior ministries were not available for comment Monday.
At the morgue at Tripoli Medical Hospital, an elderly man and woman lay dead. Both were identified by Tawergha family members and had gunshots to the chest.
A resident in Janzour, who gave his name as Abdulrahman, said five people were killed. “We found two bodies of black people who had been shot on the beach. We told the police, and they have taken them now,” he said.
Abdelhafid Suleiman, head of the military council of Janzour, said a group from the Tawergha camp later took to the streets to protest against the deaths. He said more violence erupted when Janzour fighters, who were on the streets to maintain security, tried to take knives and sticks off the Tawergha refugees.
Once inhabited by almost 30,000 people, Tawergha is now a ghost town.
Human Rights Watch has said Misrata rebels have looted and destroyed homes in Tawergha as well as the neighboring farming villages of Kararim and Tomina, and revenge attacks against the refugees and arbitrary arrests continue.
In addition to addressing the refugee issue, Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) must quell regular clashes between rival militias, bring down youth unemployment and secure its borders against arms traffickers, al Qaeda insurgents and migrants trying to reach Europe illegally.
Editing by Andrew Heavens