Return of Libyans Barred on Fears of Violence, HRW Says

Libyan authorities barred black citizens in a convoy of about 40 vehicles from returning home to Tuwaregha, a former Muammar Qaddafi bastion on the western coast, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Tuwareghans left the eastern city of Benghazi three days ago and traveled for about 150 kilometers (90 miles), as far as Ajdabiya, before being turned back, the New York-based organization said in a statement today. It called on the central government to ensure their safe return.

Tuwareghans fled their hometown in August 2011 as anti-Qaddafi fighters from the nearby city of Misrata approached. About 35,000 have been living in camps across Libya ever since, prevented from returning by Misratan militias. A mass return scheduled for June 25 was called off at the last minute by Tuwareghan leaders, shortly after Prime Minister Ali Zaidan said their security could not be assured.

Tensions between the two towns run deep. Residents of Misrata say Tuwareghans backed Qaddafi during the war and that their militias raped their women and pillaged the southern outskirts of their city during a bloody six-month siege. Tuwareghans say the entire community is being harassed and targeted because of the crimes of a few.

The return of Tuwareghans is one of the thorniest issues facing Libyan authorities two years after the removal of Qaddafi.

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