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Are Sub-Saharan Mercenaries Fighting for Gaddafi?

This post is part of our special coverage Libya Uprising 2011.

From the very first days of the 2011 Libyan uprising, there has been talk of foreign mercenaries, both from Sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe, within long-standing leader Colonel Gaddafi's commando units.

A video (warning: graphic images), posted on February 19, 2011, began the first rumors of African mercenaries in Libya. This information subsequently triggered a heated debate in the traditional media [en] [fr] as well as on African blogs.

Military men in Tripoli. Image (original owner unknown) published on the Libyan Youth Movement's public Facebook page.

Military men in Tripoli. Image (original owner unknown) published on the Libyan Youth Movement's public Facebook page.

In West African country Guinea, the blog leguepard.net published an article by Saliou Bah [fr], director of Guinean newspaper Le jour de Conakry [fr] (Daily Conakry) where he states that:

Les présidents Guinéen, Burkinabé, Angolais, Soudanais, Tchadien, Centrafricain et autres ont été contactés par les « émissaires » du guide [Mouammar Kadhafi], tous ont répondu positivement à la demande de sauvetage du patron de la révolution verte.

Ils sont des centaines de militaires Guinéens à avoir quitté la capitale Guinéenne au début du mois [de février] pour Tripoli.

Joint au téléphone par la rédaction de lejourguinee, un Guinéen résident à Tripoli depuis 18 ans, confirme avoir vu des militaires Guinéens aux cotés des forces « mercenaires » pro Kadhafi dans les rues de la capitale en train de « restaurer » l'ordre. « Il y a bel et bien des Guinéens parmi les forces de répression en Libye » nous dit-il avant de raccrocher son téléphone.

The Guinean, Burkinabe, Angolan, Sudanese, Chadian, and Central African presidents were contacted by the guide's [Gaddafi's] emissaries, and they all have positively responded to the request to rescue the chief of the green revolution [reference to Gaddafi's coup in 1960s Libya].

Hundreds of Guinean soldiers left the Guinean capital [Conakry] at the beginning of February 2011 for  [Libyan capital] Tripoli.

A Guinean living in Tripoli for 18 years was contacted by telephone by the editorial office of [news site] lejourguinee. He confirms having seen Guinean military men beside the pro-Gaddafi “mercenary forces” in the streets of the capital in the process of “restoring” order. Before hanging up he said: “There were indeed Guineans among the repressive Libyan forces”.

The Chadian government has officially denied [fr] these claims but the editorial office [fr] of Chad news site Tchadactuel has its own sources:

La Libye a demandé au [président tchadien] Deby de lui envoyer des hommes et mobiliser les tchadiens de Libye, ce qu'il fait à merveille.Selon des sources concordantes Kadhafi aurait demandé le même service aux soudanais, mais ces derniers auraient poliment décliné la demande, par contre, ils autorisent les soudanais volontaires à se rendre en Libye via le Tchad.

Libya has requested Deby [Chadian president] to send him men and to mobilize Chadians in Libya, which he has done marvelously. According to consistent sources, Gaddafi requested the same service from the Sudanese, but the latter politely declined the request, but they did allow Sudanese to go voluntarily to Libya via Chad.

Libyan Omar Libya [fr], who is exiled to London and is an “observer” for the French television channel France24 and currently coordinates the Facebook page of the Libyan Youth Movement, has publicized the rumors circulating amongst Libyans:

Les manifestants ont filmé ces vidéos, non par sadisme, mais pour montrer au monde entier que Mouammar Kadhafi a recruté des mercenaires africains pour s’assurer que la répression soit radicale. Il y a une rumeur selon laquelle ils seraient payés 9 000 euros par Libyen tué [Certains sites libyens parlent de 30 000 dollars (22 000 euros) pour la mission, d’autres de 500 dollars par jour (370 euros). Ces rumeurs ne sont pas vérifiées]. Ce qui est sûr, c’est qu’ils ne parlent pas l'arabe dialectal local. Ils parlent souvent anglais ou français.

The demonstrators haven't recorded these videos out of sadism but rather to show the world that Mouammar Gaddafi has recruited African mercenaries to ensure a radical repression. There is a rumor that they are getting paid 9,000 euro per dead Libyan [some Libyan sites speak of 30,000 US dollars (22,000 euros) per mission, others 500 US dollars a day (370 euros). These are unverified rumors]. What is certain, is that they [the mercenaries] do not speak the local Arabic dialect. They often speak English or French.

The Libyan League for Human Rights (LLHR) published a report [fr], which was republished by the International Federation for Human Rights, in which they state:

La répression serait menée par les forces de sécurité avec le soutien de mercenaires tchadiens, zimbabwéens, et d’anciens miliciens [libériens] de Charles Taylor. L’utilisation, par les forces de sécurité et les agents de l’État sous son contrôle effectif, de balles réelles et d’armes lourdes pour mener la répression et des bombardements indiscriminés des populations civiles constituent des violations graves du droit international des droits de l’Homme et du droit international humanitaire.”

The repression was led by security forces and supported by mercenaries from Chad, Zimbabwe and former Charles Taylor militia men [Liberians]. The use of real bullets, heavy weapons, and indiscriminate bombing by the security forces and state agents on the civilian population during this repression is a serious violation of international human rights and international humanitarian law.

In terms of the International Committee of the Red Cross' definition [fr], are all those attempting to repress the Libyan revolution to be considered mercenaries? There are at least two categories of men in uniform in the Libyan repression: black Libyans from the Libyan army, and soldiers sent at the request of the “guide” [Gaddafi] by their own governments.

In the forum boubah.com, a Guinean blogger, alpha, explains [fr]:

Les arabes utilisent le mot africain pour désigner les personnes d'origine noire, comme on dit african american aux states. Ils sont d'ailleurs très nombreux dans un des corps de l'armée libyenne qu'on appelle aussi la LÉGION ISLAMIQUE. C'est un corps qui est calqué sur le modèle français de la légion étrangère. Cette armée des mercenaires a été constitué par Kadhafi lors de la guerre contre le Tchad (Bande d’Aozou), [composée] essentiellement d'éléments sahéliens (Tchad, Niger, Soudan etc).

The Arabs use the term African for all black people, just as they say African American in the United States. There are a large number of them in the Islamic Legion, a body of the Libyan army. This body is mimicking the French model of the Foreign Legion. This army of mercenaries was formed by Gaddafi during the war against Chad (Aozou Strip), and was formed mainly of Sahelian elements (Chad, Nigeria, Sudan etc).

Disgust and indignation at these actions has been shared by all media. Colete Claraz [fr], commenting on French newspaper Le Figaro‘s website says:

Rien de nouveau sous le soleil. Tous les dictateurs le font. Ex : Chavez. il s'est entouré de miliciens qui ne sont pas vénézuéliens mais cubains. Donc, en cas de contre-révolution, ces derniers sauront quoi faire. On parle même de mercenaires cubains en Libye.

Nothing new under the sun. All the dictators do it. For example: Chavez. He surrounded himself with soldiers who weren't Venezuelans but Cubans. So in case of a counter-revolution, the latter would know what to do. There is even talk of Cuban mercenaries in Libya.

dd lolo [fr] adds:

[...] je doute qu’il y ait vraiment beaucoup de professionnels dans le lot il est facile pour khaddafi d’employer des pauvres bougres d’Afrique subsaharienne ou des pays d’Europe de l’est pour faire le sale travail en compagnie de ses troupes libyennes.

[…] I doubt that there are many professionals in the batch. It is easy for Gaddafi to hire poor chaps from Sub-Saharan Africa or from Eastern European countries to do the dirty work together with his Libyan troops.

dd lolo urges [fr] the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the Peace and Security Council of the African Union (AU) to intervene immediately.

The International Organization for Migration is worried about the fate of African migrants [fr] living in Libya without papers who could become victims of the “mercenaries’ psychosis”:

Sur les dizaines de milliers d'Africains subsahariens et de sud Asiatiques qui travaillent en Libye, seul un petit nombre est parvenu à atteindre la frontière jusqu'ici. Cela est probablement dû au manque de ressources pour payer le transport.

Of the tens of thousands of Sub-Saharan Africans and South Asians who work in Libya, only a small number were able to reach the border. This is probably due to the lack of resources to pay for transport.

This post is part of our special coverage Libya Uprising 2011.

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