By KARIN LAUB, Associated Press
TAWERGHA, Libya (AP) — This town once loyal to Moammar Gadhafi is no more: its 25,000 residents have fled, fearing retribution from vengeful victors from the neighboring city of Misrata who have burned and ransacked homes, crossed out Tawergha’s name on road signs and vowed not to let anyone return.
Tawergha, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Misrata, is just one casualty of score-settling following Libya’s 8-month civil war that ended with Gadhafi’s Oct. 20 capture and death.
The country’s interim leaders have appealed for restraint, but seem unable to control revolutionary forces whose recent vigilante acts, including the suspected killing of Gadhafi while in custody, have begun to tarnish their heroic image abroad.
A Western diplomat said Libya’s new leaders need to come out more strongly against the culture of revenge, and hold the former fighters accountable for their actions.
Failure to resolve such conflicts and bring regime supporters, including in the badly damaged loyalist towns of Sirte and Bani Walid, into the fold could destabilize Libya and hamper the attempted transition to democracy, the diplomat warned, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive subject matter.
However, people in Misrata, which was heavily damaged during the war, are in no mood for reconciliation. The port city of 300,000 rose up early against Gadhafi and came under a weekslong siege by Gadhafi fighters, many from Tawergha which served as a staging ground for the loyalists. Nearly 1,300 Misrata residents were killed and thousands wounded in the fighting, city officials say.
Misrata officials have accused the Tawerghans, some of them descendants of African slaves, of particular brutality during the war, including alleged acts of rape and looting. During the siege, Gadhafi fighters sniped at residents from roof tops and shelled the city indiscriminately.