TRIPOLI Libyan troops intervened to end fighting between rival tribes in the eastern desert on Thursday, a rare example of the government in Tripoli imposing its authority over the fractious country.
Dozens of people have been killed over the past 10 days in the city of Al Kufra, near Libya's borders with Chad, Sudan and Egypt, after a long-standing rivalry between two tribes erupted into violence.
The fighting was a fresh challenge for Libya's new leadership which took over after the overthrow of leader Muammar Gaddafi last year but has struggled to restore stability, hampered by the lack of an effective national army.
Armed forces chief of staff Yousef al-Mangoush said the intervention in Al Kufra showed the national army, which has only taken shape in the past few weeks, was now capable of enforcing law and order.
"Units of the national army are now in Kufra inside the airport and will enter vital areas in the city in order to secure the city," he told a news conference.
"Now the army actually exists and its units are present and have secured the airport and the region. ... (It) will do everything in its power to solve this problem."
Representatives of the two rival tribes in Al Kufra, the Tabu and Zwai, confirmed that there was a halt in the fighting.
"The (national army) commandos have taken control of the region," Adelbari Idriss, a security official from the Zwai tribe, said by telephone.
Members of the two tribes said that they were using the restored calm to try to fly people wounded in the conflict to hospitals in the capital, Tripoli.
Some of the wounded have already arrived in Tripoli on board Libyan Red Crescent aircraft and were sent immediately for emergency surgery, said Jamila Labad, who helped coordinate the evacuation.
Members of the Tibu ethnic group are mainly found in Chad but also inhabit parts of southern Libya. The Zwai tribe accused the Tibu of attacking Al Kufra, backed by mercenaries from Chad. The Tibu said it was they who came under attack.
The region has a history of violence involving tribes. A tribal rebellion in 2009 was suppressed only after Gaddafi sent in helicopter gunships.
(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)