| TRIPOLI/ALGIERS, Sept 26
TRIPOLI/ALGIERS, Sept 26 Tuareg tribesmen
fought skirmishes at the weekend with armed groups affiliated to
Libya's interim government, two sources with local contacts told
Reuters, a clash that highlighted the challenges Libya's new
rulers face in winning over fractious tribes.
Tuaregs, nomads who roam the desert spanning the borders of
Libya and its neighbours, backed Libya's deposed leader Muammar
Gaddafi and view with suspicion the National Transitional
Council (NTC) that is now in power.
The clashes happened in Ghadames, a town on the border with
Algeria about 600 km southwest of Tripoli, according to the
commander of an anti-Gaddafi military unit and a leading Tuareg
figure based in Algeria.
NTC officials in Tripoli said at the weekend the town, which
is under the control of their forces, had been attacked by
Gaddafi's military forces, possibly tied to one of Muammar
Gaddafi's sons, Khamis.
But the two sources said it was a clash between Tuaregs and
townspeople -- a more worrying version of events for the NTC
because it shows the deep divisions in Libyan society that will
remain even if the last of Gaddafi's forces are defeated.
"There are no forces belonging to Khamis Gaddafi in
Ghadames, the news is not true," said Mukhtar al-Akhdar,
commander of the anti-Gaddafi Zintan Brigade based in Tripoli.
"We have some of our forces, three to four groups, there in
the area which provided us with the true version of the story,"
he told Reuters.
"What really took place were skirmishes between some
anti-Gaddafi forces of the residents of the city and members of
the Tuareg tribes," he said.
"We have a presence in the area and we will organise a
reconciliation council for the members of the two groups and,
God willing, all will be fine soon."
Ahmed Najem, a prominent Tuareg who is based in the desert
of southern Algeria, said he had been in contact by telephone
with fellow tribespeople in Ghadames.
"There has been a clash between the Libyans and the Tuareg
in Ghadames," he told Reuters in the Algerian capital.
"The Libyans wanted to clean up the city from its Tuareg.
This is how it all started. They provoked our brothers saying
they are with Gaddafi, and that Gaddafi is over now, so they
have to disappear too. This is why the clashes erupted."
Many Tuaregs back Gaddafi because he supported their
rebellion against the governments of Mali and Niger in the 1970s
and later allowed many of them to settle in southern Libya.
The tribe is important to regional security because the
Tuareg have huge influence in the vast, empty desert expanses
which are often exploited by drug traffickers and Islamist
militants as a safe haven for their operations.
(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Tim Pearce)