Two killed and 16 hurt in Libyan clashes

GHARYAN, Libya Sat Jan 14, 2012 7:56am EST

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GHARYAN, Libya (Reuters) - Clashes between rival Libyan militias have killed two people and wounded 16, in the latest violence involving armed groups refusing to hand in their weapons.

The clashes began late on Friday and continued on Saturday.

"We received eight cases yesterday, including one dead who was shot in the head and chest, one critical with a head wound and six others lightly injured," said Ibrahim Karim, a doctor at the main hospital in Gharyan, 80 km (50 miles) south of Tripoli.

Muhammed Hassan, a doctor at the same hospital, said another person had died and nine others had been taken to the hospital on Saturday, two in a "very critical condition."

A Reuters correspondent at the scene saw ambulances and pickup trucks stream into the hospital grounds carrying the injured, including an unconscious teenager in civilian clothing. He said he could hear gunfire nearby.

Libya's interim government is struggling to control disparate militias which played a key role in toppling Muammar Gaddafi but are now refusing to disarm, saying they are suspicious of the country's new rulers.

Militia members from Gharyan say they are fighting adversaries in Assabia, 10 miles away, whom they accuse of being pro-Gaddafi.

Fighters from Assabia could not be reached on Saturday for comment. Since Gaddafi's death, various militias have clashed over land and minor disputes and often each side accuses the other of still supporting the dead dictator.

EXCHANGE OF FIRE

A spokesman for Gharyan city council told Reuters clashes started when fighters from nearby Assabia stopped two civilians, stripped one naked and stabbed the other in the leg.

"Revolutionaries in Gharyan started to amass their weapons late on Friday. By 5 p.m., Assabia (fighters) started shooting heavy artillery at Gharyan," he said, adding that the opposing militias clashed briefly in September.

Brigadier Ammar Huwaidi, commander of Gharyan military council, told Reuters he had a list of 70 people from former pro-Gaddafi brigades in Assabia whom he wanted arrested. He also wanted the perpetrators of an Assabian ambush that killed nine people from Gharyan in September to be handed over.

"(Assabia fighters) fired 120 rockets yesterday at us. Today they are using rocket launchers and there is an exchange of fire. Some houses were damaged," Huwaidi said in a phone conversation with defense minister Osama al-Juwali which was overheard by a Reuters correspondent.

"When they shoot at you, you can't tell me not to shoot back. We are working on calming the situation. But there are people who still control Assabia and they want to spread chaos," he said, adding later to Reuters that al-Juwali was asking him to cease fire.

Earlier this month, Libya appointed a head of the armed forces, in the first significant move to build a new military to incorporate the former rebels.

At the same time, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of the National Transitional Council (NTC), warned that conflict among rival militias could spark a civil war after four militants were killed in a clash in Tripoli.

Former rebels want more cash for ousting Gaddafi in the nine-month conflict, and for the government to cut off the salaries of top officials who served under Gaddafi.

(Writing by Oliver Holmes; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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