TRIPOLI, Libya — Rows of identical temporary housing and a smell of rotting food and sweat made more pungent by the unbearable heat mark the camp that has become home to 300 families of the Tawergha tribe, forced to flee their homes during the Libyan revolution.
Slogans daubed onto the walls of the camp's primary school express the common sentiments of the thousands living on this former construction site in the outskirts of Tripoli: "I want to go back to my old school" or "I am proud to be Tawergha."
In August 2011, 42,000 members of this tribe were driven from their homes in the town of Tawergha as rebels from the nearby city of Misrata stormed in, shooting indiscriminately and burning houses, leaving a ghost town in their wake.
"I had palm tree orchards and fruit plants around my house," said 62-year-old Faraj Al Tawerghi, sitting under the shade of a tree outside his temporary dwelling. "I was a farmer and now my house is destroyed, and I don't know how my trees are."
The Tawergha is the main tribe in Libya that remains in limbo following the end of the Libyan revolution in 2011. With many having sided with former president Moammar Gadhafi, who was killed in October of that year, they have faced persecution following the revolution — losers in an uprising that brought to the fore old clan rivalries.
Analysts say the conflict between the different Libyan tribes is complicating the country's transition from authoritarian to democracy.
"Libya is traveling a dangerous journey through the minefield of transition, and it could explode the entire country," said Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics. "There are mechanisms of co-existence and finding democratic means to resolve past tensions and injustices and in societies where they don't do so, they don't make the transition."
Now, amid reports there will be no extra funding from the Obama administration to promote democracy in Libya, the Tawergha and other pro-Gadhafi Libyans face being left to deal with the persecution, as reconciliation between them and the rebels remains on the back burner.
But it shouldn't be, say analysts, because Libya needs them to move forward, and put their house in order, especially in light of outbursts of violence between rival militias.
"Libya must pursue its future on a solid grounding of equality, justice and respect for the rule of law and human rights," said Elham Saudi, the director of Lawyers for Justice in Libya, a human rights organization. "Ensuring the safe return, protection and support of the Tawerghans will greatly contribute to this effort and is vital to a success of national reconciliation."
The Tawergha, considered the descendants of African slaves by most Libyans, say they are being rejected by the entire population of Libya. Some, such as the Misratis, accuse them of rape and murder after some supported Gadhafi and his army during the siege of Misrata in 2011.
"It is true that the entire city (of Tawergha) was pro-Gadhafi during the war but that was because we were told that NATO would turn Libya into a new Iraq," said Salem Adem, a Tawergha and professor of French at the University of Zawya near Tripoli. "Today, we respect the new Libya's institutions."
With the issue stalled, the Tawergha who mainly live in refugee camps around Tripoli, Benghazi and Sirte, are pushing to return to their city.
Others propose giving the Tawerghas money to move elsewhere in Libya.
"What they did (during the siege of Misrata), even Israel does not do in Palestine," said Khalifa Zway, a member of a local council in Misrata, which accuses the Tawergha people of raping 1,800 Misrati women, although there is no official report confirming such actions.
"How would you feel if you knew that the people who killed your father or raped your wife came back to live near your house?" Zway added.
Meanwhile, men in brigades loyal to Misrata and officially under the control of the Ministry of Interior hold hundreds of Tawergha prisoners.
"Most of them are Tawergha who used to be Gadhafi supporters," said Mustafa Zeidan, head of the Omar Issa Alshaida brigade who holds about 250 of these men prisoner in cells at their headquarters in Misrata.
As he opens the door to one for two minutes, dozens of people stand in front of bunk beds, heads down, looking at their feet. It is forbidden to enter because of the prevalence of diseases, says a brigade member guarding the prisoners.
Meanwhile, Tawerghas say they are the victims of war crimes committed by the Misrati. Hundreds of Tawerghas are kept in official jails in Misrata as well as secret prisons around the country and routinely tortured, according to Human Rights Watch.
"The forced displacement of roughly 40,000 people, arbitrary detentions, torture, and killings are widespread, systematic, and sufficiently organized to be crimes against humanity and should be condemned by the United Nations Security Council," Human Rights Watch wrote in a March report.
While Tawerghas and Misratis argue about how to move forward, amid concerns over retaliation, Tawergha officials are appealing for help from the tribes of eastern Libya to serve as mediators.
However, most are not hopeful of a quick resolution.
"The return (of the Tawerghas) must be on a voluntary basis and organized in dignity and security," said Emmanuel Gignac, head of the Office of the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Refugees in Libya. "But the conditions for reconciliation are just not there yet."