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Sunday, September 04, 2011

Reports of Gaddafi Mercenaries

I fought for Gathafi and I came back injured and without a penny," says Silimane Albaka, one of hundreds of Niger's Tuaregs recruited by the Libyan regime to fight the rebels.

Albaka, a veteran of the Tuareg rebellions in 1990 and 2009, battled the anti-regime forces for four months before fleeing back to Niger three weeks ago.

The 56-year-old father of seven returned to the northern city of Agadez with a chest wound from the battle for Misrata and scarcely able to feed his family.

He says he was contacted in April by Agaly Alambo, a key player in the second Tuareg revolt who settled in Tripoli.

  • Thousands of Tuaregs took refuge in Libya following the rebellions which shook Mali and Niger over the past two decades.
  • "There were 229 of us ex-fighters who left. They promised each of us an advance of 3.2 million CFA francs (about 5,000 euros), but I haven't seen a penny," said Albaka."They said that after the victory, Gathafi was going to shower us with gifts but all I saw was the hail of NATO aircraft fire," said the heavy weapons expert.

"Since the end of July, about 200 Tuareg mercenaries fled Libya for Agadez, about 500 are in Sirte, but I think all the others are dead," said Albaka.

A Tuareg source said that about 1,500 ex-rebels from Niger fought for Gathafi, most of whom were living in Libya after laying down arms in 2009.

The source said members of the strongman's regime came to Agadez in April with briefcases stuffed with cash and recruited "hundreds" of young people.

"We handed two million CFA francs (3,000 euros) to each recruit and took them on a short training session in the Libyan desert," said a Tuareg intermediary in Agadez who did not want to be named.

Almoudene Moha, another Tuareg ex-rebel who returned two weeks ago, said the intense NATO bombardments and heavy killings panicked the fighters.

"We organised an escape in our patrol vehicle," said the ex-mechanic "enrolled by force" by Gathafi loyalists.

Former Tuareg fighter Lamine Souleymane, 39, said he and three comrades ran more than 80 kilometres (50 miles) after deserting a Tripoli garrison.

"We pretended to hold prayers far away from the camp one time and we stole a vehicle which we had sold in Agadez," said Souleymane, who arrived back two days ago.

"Gathafi's soldiers came into our apartments and recruited 110 of us. They dangled about one million CFA francs (1,500 euros) in front of us, a house and Libyan nationality," said Abdoulaye Ahmadou, 36, who was unemployed when recruited by pro-Gathafi forces in April.

"It was hellish. One evening I hid in a supply truck. Once in town, I rejoined the immigrants who were returning home," he said, adding that many weapons were abandoned in the desert.

The "Mourtazak" (Arabic for mercenaries) are currently coming back unarmed but their return is causing concern in Niger where about 211,000 people have fled from the violence in Libya since February.

In Mali locals have warned that the Tuaregs' return with Libyan heavy weaponry might benefit Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which originated in Algeria and operates in several countries.

By Boureima Hama - AGADEZ (Niger)

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