Forces loyal to Libya’s government took control of the former Gaddafi stronghold of Bani Walid on Wednesday, October 24 commanders said, but pockets of resistance on the outskirts were reported, according to Reuters.
Thousands have fled bloodshed this month between rival militias in the isolated hilltop town that was one of the last to surrender to rebels who overthrew Muammar Gaddafi last year.
The violence in Bani Walid has highlighted continued disorder in the oil-producing North African Arab country.
Pro-government fighters shouted “Bani Walid is free!” on Wednesday as dozens of pick-up trucks mounted with weapons filled a roundabout and streets in the centre of the town some 170 km (105 miles) south of the coastal capital Tripoli.
“On this day – October 24 – Bani Walid is free. There are no more Gaddafi militias inside,” Fathi Shahoud, a commander of the Libya Shield grouping of militias aligned with the Defense Ministry, told Reuters. “Now we control the city and we will stay to ensure safety.”
Pro-government forces moved in on Bani Walid this month after Omran Shaban, the former rebel fighter who found Gaddafi hiding in a drain pipe in Sirte two months after rebels took Tripoli, died after being in detention there for two months.
Forces answering to the defense and interior ministries set out to find those suspected of abducting and torturing Shaban before he was eventually released, and the national congress gave Bani Walid a deadline to hand them over.
But the swoop on Bani Walid drove home the Tripoli government’s inability to reconcile groups with long-running grievances, as well as its failure to bring many of the militias that deposed Gaddafi fully under its control, Reuters said.