In embattled Libyan town, Africans fear the mob

Reuters , Wednesday 13 Apr 2011

In the battle-scarred streets of rebel-held Ajdabiyah, the Libyan residents fear a return of forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi

Libya
Enforcements of Libyan rebel fighters rush into the recaptured town of Ajdabiya, Libya, Monday, (AP).

Chadian guest workers Abdul Rahman Salah and Youssef Adam Muhammad are terrified they will be mistaken for African mercenaries in the pay of the Gaddafi government and fear a mob lynching.

Libyan rebels accuse Gaddafi and his forces of hiring African mercenaries to try and put down a revolt aimed at ending his 41 years in power. Rebels holding Ajdabiyah and other towns in the east have vowed to hunt them down.

"We are scared. Whenever we go outside, rebels, and even ordinary Libyans, call us 'black dog mercenaries'. They yell at us," Chadian Abdul Rahman Salah told Reuters. "They say `you kill Libyans now we will do the same to you'."

Salah and Youssef Adam Muhammad arrived in Ajdabiyah six months ago to work as security guards at a farm.

Their dream of making a decent living in oil-rich Libya and supporting their families back home has been shattered during the bloodiest of the uprisings sweeping the Arab world. Now all they think about is survival, and returning to Chad as soon as possible.

A few days ago, rebels drove through Ajdabiyah -- just a few hundred metres (yards) from where the two Chadians live -- with the corpse of an Algerian they described as an African mercenary in the back of a pickup truck. They shouted "God is greatest" and boasted about how they had shot him.

Hundreds of other Chadians working in the town have fled since the unrest began in mid-February, worried they would be identified as Gaddafi agents. Gaddafi and his supporters deny allegations they are using African mercenaries in the conflict.

Libya and Chad spent years feuding over their common border and were at war the 1980s before settling their dispute in 1994. Salah and Muhammad have to rely on each other for support.

"Whenever people see us they stop us in the street and ask us so many questions. Where are we from? Why are we here? Are we mercenaries? Why do we like Gaddafi? And it is getting worse and worse," said Muhammad, 38, as the two nervously walked home from a grocery shop with some rice, pasta and cooking oil.
"We only leave home every four days when we run out of food. We just stay home."

But home isn't always safe.

A carload of rebels recently arrived there, stormed into their rooms, pointed their AK-47 assault rifles and accused them of being on Gaddafi's payroll. "They turned our rooms upside down looking for weapons," said Salah, 28.

The only thing the Chadians can do to try and break the monotony is watch television. But they often end up tuning into Arabic television channels, hoping for news that tensions will ease. There are often reminders of their predicament.

During a live news conference this week, the head of the transitional rebel council announced that he had raised his concerns over Gaddafi's African mercenaries with a visiting African Union delegation.

Escaping to Chad isn't a viable option at the moment. Flying there is impossible because of a United Nations no-fly zone imposed on Libya to protect civilians from Gaddafi's forces.

Salah and Muhammad are too scared to travel to Chad by road. That would require stopping at checkpoints guarded by jittery rebels who spend much of their time discussing how the people they call African merchants of death are killing innocent Libyans. Chad's embassy has not eased their anxiety.
"We called the embassy and told them we were worried about our safety. They just told us to try and find a safe way home," said Salah.

He then asked this reporter to give him a document proving he is not an African mercenary.

 

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