Government fails to halt western Libya militia clash

TRIPOLI Tue Apr 3, 2012 8:53am EDT

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TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Rival militias in western Libya attacked each other with heavy weapons for a third day on Tuesday, a local official said, after the government, struggling to impose its authority on the volatile country, failed to persuade the two sides to stop.

The clash between members of the Berber ethnic minority and their Arab neighbors around the town of Zuwara is typical of the ethnic and tribal disputes that have flared up since a revolt last year ended Muammar Gaddafi's rule.

Militias from inside Zuwara, a predominantly Berber town on the Mediterranean coast about 120 km (75 miles) west of Libyan capital Tripoli, were exchanging heavy weapons fire with fighters from the nearby Arab settlements of Al-Jumail and Regdalin, according to the official.

Iyoub Sofian, from the Zuwara local council, told Reuters one man was killed and five injured on the Zuwara side. "There are heavy clashes at the entrance to Regdalin, (and) heavy bombing from Al-Jumail on Zuwara," he said.

He said representatives from the national army had tried to broker a ceasefire on Monday, but it did not hold.

"We stopped firing but Al-Jumail and Regdalin did not stop the bombing, so we received orders to attack," said Sofian.

It was not immediately possible to contact fighters in Al-Jumail or Regdalin. The Libyan deputy interior minister, contacted by Reuters, declined to comment until later on Tuesday.

Zuwara lies on the main highway linking Tripoli to neighboring Tunisia, a vital supply route for the Libyan capital.

An Interior Ministry official told Reuters the confrontation had started on Sunday when a group of Zuwara men hunting for game accidentally shot someone from Al-Jumail. They were briefly detained, angering people in Zuwara.

In another confrontation that has underlined Libya's fragility, about 150 people were killed in clashes over the past week between rival tribes in the southern city of Sabha.

(Reporting by Taha Zargoun; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)

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