North Africa Theater

Podcast: Homage to Lounes Matoub

In Episode 12 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg pays homage to the martyred Algerian Berber singer and songrwiter Lounes Matoub on the 20th anniversary of his assassination. It remains unclear to this day if Matoub was killed by agents of the Algerian state or militants of the Islamist opposition—as both were equally opposed to the Berber cultural renaissance that he represented. The Berbers, or Imazighen (singular: Amazigh), are the indigenous people of North Africa, whose language and culture have been suppressed to varying degrees by Arab-dominated regimes from Morocco to Libya. The 1980 "Berber Spring" in the Kabylia region of Algeria was key to Matoub's politicization, and his assassination was followed by a second round of "Berber Spring" protests in 2001. This presaged the international Arab Revolution that broke out a decade later—which in North Africa was really also a Berber Revolution. The 2011 protests and uprisings resulted in advances for Berber cultural rights and autonomy in Algeria, Morocco and Libya alike—a sign of hope amid the current atmosphere of counter-revolution and reaction throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.

'Disaster' seen as Libyan oil facility burns

Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC) is warning of an "environmental disaster" following clashes at the country's Ras Lanuf oil terminal that set storage tanks of the Harouge Oil Company on fire. “Further damage to these oil sites could have a huge impact on the Libyan oil sector and the national economy," the statement said. The chief of the Petroleum Facilities Guard, Ibrahim Jadran, launched a military operation in Libya's "oil crescent" last week to take the Ras Lanuf and Sidra terminals from Operation Dignity militia forces.  Jadran called Operation Dignity “a terrorist entity.”  Operation Dignity and the affiliated "Libyan National Army," led by commander Khalifa Haftar, are loyal to Libya's unrecognized eastern government. (Al Jazeera, June 18; Libya Observer, June 16)

Libya: protest against siege of Derna

Protesters marched in Libya's capital Tripoli on May 21 demanding that renegade general Khalifa Haftar lift his siege of the eastern city of Derna. Demonstrators gathered outside the headquarters of the UN mission in Libya to demand an international response. Libyan High State Council member Abdelfattah al-Shilwy spoke there, charging: "The United Nations support mission in Libya has let us down. We are calling on the international community to help stop the war on Derna, lift the devastating siege, and form a neutral committee to investigate the situation here." Protesters demanded UN pressure on Haftar to open a corridor at Derna to allow evacuation of the wounded and ill. Derna has been under siege for nearly two years, but the situation has worsened since Haftar launched a new offensive this month against the Islamist factions that control the city. The protest was led by a group calling itself that Council of Elders of Tripoli. (Al Jazeera, Libya Observer)

ICC to Libyan authorities: hand over 'executioner'

The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor has called upon Libyan authorities to surrender military commander Mahmoud al-Werfalli, who is accused of war crimes including mass executions and summary killings. Fatou Bensouda told the UN Security Council May 9 that Werfalli, along with Saif al-Islam Qaddafi and Al-Tuhamy Khaled (intelligence chief under the Qaddafi dictatorship), has yet to be handed over to the court. Despite the warrant out for his arrest, she said there are now "credible allegations" that he has committed further murders which may also be prosecuted as war crimes. "The Libyan people deserve answers," Bensouda said, adding that suspects cannot continue to be "sheltered."

Western Sahara headed back towards war?

The UN Security Council on April 27 extended the mandate of the peacekeeping force for Western Sahara (MINURSO) through the end of October 2018, while calling for Morocco and the Polisario Front to finally negotiate an end to the decades‑old conflict. Western Sahara is claimed by Morocco, while the Polisario Front seeks independence for the territory. The territory has since the 1975-1991 war that followed its independence from Spain been divided by a series of sand berms and a "buffer zone." These separate the territory's Morocco-occupied west and a Polisario-controlled eastern strip. The Security Council called for the Polisario Front to immediately withdrawal from the buffer strip around the area of Guerguerat, to refrain from any destabilizing actions. It also expressed concern over Polisario's planned relocation of administrative functions form Tindouf, across the border in Algeria, to Bir Lahlou within Western Sahara, (ReliefWeb, April 27)

UN decries arbitrary detentions in Libya

A UN report (PDF) published April 10 detailed the conditions of thousands of people being held in Libya, describing them as human rights violations. According to the report, released by the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR), about 6,500 people are being held in official prisons, but thousands more are being detained in facilities controlled by armed groups, with varying degrees of loyalty to official authorities. One facility, which holds about 2,000 people, is run by a militia nominally loyal to the internationally recognized Government of National Accord, at Mitiga airbase in Tripoli. It is said to subject detainees to torture and unlawful killings, while denying adequate medical care. Additionally, the report asserts that people are arbitrarily detained because of their tribal or family background. The report further contends that authorities use armed groups to arrest suspected opponents.

ICC takes Mali war crimes suspect into custody

The International Criminal Court (ICC) announced March 31 that al-Hassan ag-Abdoul Aziz ag-Mohamed ag-Mahmoud was surrendered to the court's detention center in the Netherlands by Malian authorities. According to the arrest warrant (PDF), he is accused of crimes against humanity in Timbuktu, Mali, as de facto leader of the "Islamic police" force in 2012 and 2013. He allegedly took part in the destruction of the mausoleums of Muslim saints in Timbuktu. He also allegedly participated in forced marriages involving Fulani women, which resulted in repeated rape and the reduction of women and girls to sexual slavery. The International Criminal Court concludes that there is evidence to provide grounds for an arrest warrant under the reasonable belief that Al Hassan could be criminally liable under Articles 25 (3) (a) or 25 (3) (b) of the Rome Statute (PDF) for crimes against humanity. Al Hassan is expected to make an initial appearance in court later this week.

Environmental protester shuts Libyan oil-field

The company operating Libya's biggest oilfield, Sharara, announced March 4 that it had been shut down after a citizen closed the pipeline that pumps the field's oil to al-Zawiya refinery. The field is run by a joint venture between Libya's National Oil Corporation with Spain's Repsol, French Total, Austria's OMV and Norway's Statoil. The individual, named as Hatem al-Hadi from Zintan, claimed the pipeline passes through his land and caused environmental pollution, the Mellitah Oil & Gas consortium said in a statement. The same person reportedly closed the pipeline last year and then reopened after the company pledged that his six hectares of land would be cleaned. The company has apparently failed to follow through on its promise. With this latest closure of the Sharara field, Libya's oil output dropped to a six-month low of 750,000 barrels per day, after reaching 1 million bpd last year.

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