TARHOUNA, LIBYA — A year ago, the desert hilltop town of Bani Walid was one of the last loyalist strongholds to surrender to the rebel fighters who overthrew Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi.
But the new Libyan puppet government never took full control of Bani Walid, and recently, hostilities have flared again. Pro-rebel forces launched an offensive in late September to take control of the town from high-profile Gaddafi loyalists, who they said were using it as a hideout.
Last week, after weeks of shelling, the militias said they had cleared Bani Walid and the government declared an end to the fighting, inviting those who had fled the violence to go back. But the militias defied the government’s orders and barred their return for more than a week, relenting only on Wednesday, when residents began trickling back to a battered town with no electricity or running water.
The still-tense situation in Bani Walid, about 90 miles southeast of Tripoli, underscores just how little control Libya’s central rebel regime wields over even its most loyal militias, who are being called on to provide security and maintain order across the country. But it also illustrates the deepening divide between the winners and losers of last year’s revolution.