At least 400 Chadian workers rounded up in east Libyan town of Ajdabiya after security forces in Chad arrest four Libyan poachers.
Hundreds of Chadians are being rounded up and detained on the streets of a Libyan town for a ninth day in retaliation for the Chad government’s arrest of four Libyan men on suspicion of poaching endangered animals.
At least 400 people have now been arrested in the city of Ajdabiya by a militia linked to the warlord Khalifa Haftar, commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army.
Earlier this month the Chadian authorities arrested four men from Ajdabiya for entering the country illegally and poaching a rare species of antelope. It is understood that the Libyans are part of a network that has been poaching in the north-east of Chad for years.
A security source in Libya told the Guardian that at least 400 Chadians had since been arrested by the Ajdabiya brigade, led by Ayoub Issa al-Ferjani, Khalifa Haftar’s son-in-law.
“The campaign is still going on,” the source said. “It can reach a point where ties with Chad will be cut if anything happens to the four Libyans.”
The source claimed: “Many of these Chadians are sick with infectious diseases. We are planning to send them back to Chad as many of them do not have the right papers to stay in Libya.”
Photographs of the detainees sitting on the ground surrounded by soldiers have been circulating on social media pages linked to the brigade.
Chad’s environment minister, Mahamat Ahmat Lazina, told reporters that five vehicles entered Chad from Libya near Murdi town and were pursued by Chadian security forces. Three of the vehicles escaped back over the border.
The four men could face up to five years in prison if they are convicted
Lazina said poaching was a huge “international embarrassment” in a country committed to protecting its wildlife.
Poachers in north-east Chad target Barbary sheep (known in Chad as Mouflon à manchettes), birds of prey and the endangered Dama gazelle, which is the largest gazelle species in the world and prized for its skin.
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Chad has been struggling with Sudanese and Libyan poachers, who between 2002 and 2010 killed about 4,000 elephants, according to the UN.
Mansour Attie, an activist from Ajdabiya, said: “It’s inhumane that they arrest all those poor workers who came to this country to improve their lives, in retaliation for four people who went there for poaching.”
There are an estimated 50,000 Chadian workers in Libya, mostly working in goldmining and agriculture.
Libya’s foreign ministry said they had started negotiations with Chad to release the four, whom they considered to have entered Chad “mistakenly”. The Chadian authorities declined to comment.