Libya: propaganda war over foreign fighters on both sides

Partisans of either side in the Libyan conflict are touting various claims that foreign fighters were on the other side. The pretty clear political agendas behind these claims makes it difficult to arrive at an objective reading of the situation. A sensationalist but rather confused Sept. 7 account in the DC-area Afro features quotes from former congressman Walter Fauntroy, recently returned from a “self-sanctioned peace mission” to Libya, during which his month-long disappearance sparked rumors of his death. Fauntroy claims much of the fighting attributed to the rebels was actually carried out by NATO special forces troops—who also brutalized the populace:

In an interview inside his Northwest D.C. home last week, the noted civil rights leader, told the Afro that he watched French and Danish troops storm small villages late at night beheading, maiming and killing rebels and loyalists to show them who was in control.

“‘What the hell’ I’m thinking to myself. I’m getting out of here. So I went in hiding,” Fauntroy said.

The rebels told Fauntroy they had been told by the European forces to stay inside. According to Fauntroy, the European forces would tell the rebels, “‘Look at what you did.’ In other words, the French and Danish were ordering the bombings and killings, and giving credit to the rebels.

“The truth about all this will come out later,” Fauntroy said.

So the French and Danish troops were killing both rebels and Qaddafi “loyalists”? Not much explanation is offered for this. Also note that we are not even given the name or whereabouts of the “small villages” where these putative atrocities took place. Despite billing himself as a peace-broker, Fauntroy quickly makes clear whose side he is on:

While in Libya, the former congressman also said he sat down with Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi for a one-on-one conversation… Fauntroy said he spoke with Gaddafi in person and that Gaddafi assured him that if he survived these attacks, the mission to unite African countries would continue.

“Contrary to what is being reported in the press, from what I heard and observed, more than 90 percent of the Libyan people love Gaddafi,” Fauntroy said. “We believe the true mission of the attacks on Gaddafi is to prevent all efforts by African leaders to stop the recolonization of Africa.”

Afro concedes that “Fauntroy’s account could not be immediately verified.” The transparently absurd claim that “more than 90% of the Libyan people love Qaddafi” should clue us in that perhaps we should take his assertions with a grain of salt.

Clay Claiborne, blogging on Daily Kos Sept. 13, posts video links from France24 TV with dramatic footage of one rebel brigade’s advance on Tripoli. The brigade is made up of Libyan ex-pats who returned to fight Qaddafi. Writes Claiborne:

France24 Reporter Mathieu Mabin went into Tripoli on August 20th with the Tripoli brigade and provides this excellent 35 minute report in two parts that gets you close up and personal in this fight as few others have done. In the interview at the end of part 2, he says that he saw no British SAS or other nation’s special forces on the ground for the assault on Tripoli and he is certain that the Tripoli brigade wasn’t being ordered about or trained by any. Of course, you are invited to watch his report, judge his creditability, and look for them yourselves.

On the other side of the proverbial coin… Despite earlier denials that National Transitional Council forces had arrested hundreds of Polisario Front fighters from Western Sahara who had been brought in to fight for Qaddafi, the NTC has made clear where it stands on the long-simmering conflict in the Moroccan-occupied territory. The Dubai-based al-Arabiya reported Sept. 10:

When Libyan rebels announced their victory towards the end of August, Morocco was one of the first countries to send its foreign minister, Taeib Fassi Fihri, to Benghazi to express support for the new regime.

Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) swiftly aired its views on the issue of the Western Sahara.

“The future of the Sahara can only be conceived under the sovereignty” of Morocco, NTC spokesman in London Guma al-Gamaty said on regional television in Laayoune, the capital of the Western Sahara.

Claims that Polisario fighters had been brought in to back up Qaddafi were first aired way back on April 20, when The Telegraph ran a story asserting “Col Gaddafi ‘has spent £2.1m on mercenaries'”…

Details of a deal to recruit 450 fighters from the disputed Western Sahara region have been passed to Nato officials by a former Gaddafi loyalist who was involved in the negotiations before defecting to the rebels.

According to the defector, who has not been named, the mercenaries are being paid $10,000 each to fight for Col Gaddafi for two months. The deal with the mercenaries was arranged last month after serious anti-government protests threatened to overthrow the regime.

The majority of the fighters are reported to be members of the Sahrawi tribe who are based in the Western Sahara, and have been fighting a war of independence against Morocco as members of the Polisario Front.

No further details were given. The Polisario Front responded in a statement that The Telegraph ran at the end of the story:

The article claims that members of the Frente POLISARIO were involved in the ongoing conflict in Libya. We categorically deny these baseless allegations and challenge all those parties that propagate these kinds of preposterous accusations to bring forth any evidence in their possession to prove their claims. Needless to say, these unfounded allegations emanate from those quarters that have vested interest in discrediting our liberation movement.

The Frente POLISARIO is an internationally recognised liberation movement whose sole aim is to liberate Western Sahara from Morocco’s illegal occupation and to enable the Sahrawi people to exercise their internationally recognised right to self-determination and independence. Moreover, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) is a full and founding member of the African Union. Its position as to the on-going conflict in Libya stems from the same policy of the African Union, and thus it has publically reaffirmed its strong commitment to the respect for the unity and territorial integrity of Libya as well as its full support for the efforts deployed by the AU High-Level ad-hoc Committee on Libya.

Vague and/or anonymous claims from those with clear political agendas on either side of the Libya conflict should be treated with appropriate skepticism.

See our last post on the struggle in North Africa.

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