Representatives from Misrata acknowledged the right of displaced Tawerghans to return to their lands, signaling a stunning reversal in position of the west Libyan town and a possible end to a four-year long conflict.
During a two-day United Nations brokered meeting in Tunis, delegations from the neighboring towns, agreed to confidence building measures and to form a joint committee to oversee a peace process.
On Thursday Misrata promised to work on the return of the Tawergha, the largest of Libya’s displaced communities. If achieved it could see some 40,000 people – scattered across the country in makeshift refugee camps- finally go home.
Misratan revolutionaries expelled the Tawergha from their town, 230km east of Tripoli, in August 2011 during the uprising which toppled Muammar Gaddafi. It was in revenge for the role Tawerghan fighters played in the brutal Gaddafi regime siege on Misrata at the start of the NATO-backed revolt. Some 2,000 Misratans died, mostly civilians, in the assault, during which there were also allegations of systematic rapes committed by Tawerghan armed groups.
The meeting, which took place on May 27 and 28, had been facilitated by the UN’s support mission to Libya (UNSMIL) and was endorsed by formal representatives from both communities. Signalizing its approval, Misrata’s elected municipal council published the joint declaration on its official Facebook page.
With the objective of building trust between the two estranged communities, participants of the Tunis meeting agreed to concrete measures such as “unifying media rhetoric” promoting reconciliation and arranging for mutual visits, including to the now deserted town of Tawergha.
Sensitive issues were addressed, including that of Tawerghans prisoners in Misrata. Human rights groups allege that thousands of Tawerghans remain in Misratan detention centers outside state supervision.
The Misratan representatives agreed to allow visits to detainees, and promised to refer their files to the courts.
Both parties pledged to investigate crimes committed by members of their community and to allow no impunity. They specifically referred to a formal apology made by the Tawergha Elders Council in 2012 and its agreement to suspend tribal protection for known perpetrators of violence. This allows prosecution of individuals without risking retaliation by their tribe.
To oversee the confidence building process, participants agreed to form a joint committee within 15 days. This committee is expected to draft a roadmap, thereby setting a timeframe for the return of displaced people, and to assess the claims of people whose property was lost or destroyed.
Although the meeting was preceded by tentative talks between members of the two communities, it was the first concrete step toward reconciliation. But there appears to be disagreement over its legal status. Jadallah al-Tawerghi, who heads the Committee for Displaced People in the elected Parliament described the meeting as informal, adding that a formal reconciliation process would only start after Libyan conflict parties form a national unity government.