Tripoli, Libya | AFP | Neglected by rival authorities in Tripoli and the country’s east, Libya’s southern desert has increasingly become a hideout for foreign rebel groups that stand accused of stoking growing insecurity.
“Kidnapping, theft and banditry have multiplied” in the region, said Ali Akri Molia, commander of a unit responsible for protecting oil installations in the Oubari area of southern Libya.
He and others blame rebel groups from neighbouring Chad for much of the insecurity.
Mired in chaos since the fall of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011, two entities now vie for control over Libya — the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, and a parallel body in the east.
The eastern administration is supported by strongman Khalifa Haftar, who heads the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).
Various groups, from jihadists to rebel groups originally from neighbouring Chad and Sudan have exploited Libya’s enduring security vacuum.
The rebel factions have established rear bases in Libya and profit from trafficking and other illicit activities to finance insurgencies back home.
The groups benefit from the support of tribal communities, criss-crossing a landscape where dunes are sometimes the only identifying features.
Often on horseback, they ignore borders that for long stretches remain nothing more than imaginary lines in the sand.
The Tubu people are among those that straddle Libya and Chad. Some of them are involved in smuggling and illegal migration, according to experts.
“Most Chadian and Sudanese opposition armed groups have been seeking to increase their presence in Libya in the pursuit of profit,” said a recent report by a UN group of experts on Libya.
Mohammed Emdaouar, a southern Libya lawmaker, said the groups operate in a vast area extending from Koufra near Chad to the Marzuq basin, more than 400 kilometres (250 miles) from the border.
The rebels “occupy homes and have their cars. Nobody can touch them”, he lamented.
Previously accused of operating as mercenaries for rival Libyan camps, Chadian rebel groups now stand accused of driving a resurgence of violence in southern Libya.
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Commander Molia cited the kidnapping in mid-October of members of a tribe near the Oum al-Araneb region.
The captives were freed from the clutches of Chadian rebels by local armed groups, but 10 Libyan fighters were killed in the rescue operation, said Molia.
The commander complained that his forces get no support from the GNA or the eastern administration, leaving them ill-equipped to battle insecurity.
One of the freed hostages, Mohammed Ibrahim Mohammed, told AFP the Chadians claimed ransoms from families.
Two Chadian groups operating in Libya denied involvement in kidnapping activities.
“We categorically deny (what) they accuse us of,” said Kingabe Ogouzeimi de Tapol, leader of the armed wing of a group called the Salvation of the Republic.