SA ambassador warns of ethnic violence in Libya

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cape Town - Libya was in danger of sliding towards xenophobic and ethnic violence, South Africa's ambassador to Libya, Mohammed Dangor, warned today, adding there was a pressing need for South Africa to take on the role of a peace-broker.

Dangor, who arrived in South Africa yesterday after being evacuated from Tripoli, said the million migrants from Egypt and sub-Saharan Africa working there were at real risk, particularly following media reports that Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gadaffi had hired black Africans as mercenaries. 

"Libya is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-tribal society, with black people, white people, but the expat workers particularly from Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, of which there are millions, are sitting in real fear that the Libyan population will turn xenophobic against them," said Dangor.

Added to this, the country has split roughly between the Arab population in the east and the largely Berbers and Arab-Berber population in the west. Dangor pointed out that there was a real risk of age-old ethnic animosities breaking out between the two groups. 

He said the conflict in Libya was different from both Tunisia and Egypt - where uprisings centred on unemployment and hunger, and where the armed forces eventually stood aside and allowed the people to take power.

In Libya, a power struggle has ensued and the state had turned upon itself, he said.

"In fact, Colonial Gadaffi is not in power, the Libyan state is divided in two," he added.

He believed the protests, which had taken hold of the Arab world, were being fuelled by high unemployment in youth, hunger and the cost of living following the global recession and the question of identity following the break-up of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900s. 

He stressed that he was evacuated for security measures yesterday and that the South African embassy in Libya remains open.

Dangor's arrival in South Africa follows the safe evacuation of 30 South Africans and nine citizens from Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique, as well as one UK citizen, yesterday.

Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Marius Fransman said the AU has indicated that it wanted to send a fact-finding team to Libya. 

He said the South African government continues to condemn violence of any form from "which ever side" in Libya. - BuaNews