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Families Chased From Libyan Town in 2011 Can Go Home, Government Says

FILE - This displaced Libyan from the city of Tawergha was among those who lived in prefabricated houses for workers at a construction site on the outskirts of Benghazi, July 9, 2012.

Libyan families displaced from a town ransacked after the toppling of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 will be allowed to return home in February, the U.N.-backed government said Tuesday after more than a year of negotiations.

The deal, if implemented, would be a step toward reconciliation in the North African oil-producing country, which has been divided among competing factions, communities, tribes and governments since 2011.

Residents of the town of Tawergha were expelled by former anti-Gadhafi rebels in 2011 in retaliation for the strongman having used their settlement as a launch pad for attacks on the western city of Misrata during the uprising.

They have been living in camps and makeshift settlements in poverty across Libya and were banned from returning home. They faced abuse and arbitrary arrest since videos surfaced purportedly showing some of them joining Gadhafi forces in 2011.

"Within the frame of achieving the national reconciliation ... as well as to develop the basics of state of law and institutions, I declare today the beginning of return of Tawergha families to their town on the first of February," Tripoli-based Prime Minister Fayez Seraj said in a statement.

The town, east of Misrata, has been a ghost town since it was looted by Misrata forces in 2011. Human Rights Watch's website says 40,000 people were displaced.

The government will pay compensation to the relatives of those who were killed and to those who had been detained or wounded or whose homes were destroyed in the conflict, it said.

A spokesman for the Misrata city council confirmed the deal, saying it was up to the government to implement it.