TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Nearly 200 prisoners have escaped from a jail in the southern Libyan town of Sabha, an official said on Wednesday, but the circumstances were unclear.
The mass escape is the latest in a string of incidents which highlight the ongoing instability in the North African country, more than a year after the end of an uprising that toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
"Just under 200 prisoners escaped the prison yesterday, there were perhaps around 196," an official at Sabha local council said by telephone.
"The prisoners are mostly common criminals. It is not clear what exactly happened. I understand there was a fight with the police guards, who were outnumbered."
The official said some of the prisoners had later returned and others were captured but that most were still on the run.
Sabha, a desert town, lies about 800 km (500 miles) south of the coastal capital Tripoli.
About 120 prisoners escaped from Libya's largest jail in Tripoli in October.
A new government was sworn in last month with the task of establishing democracy and improving security in a country where myriad armed groups have yet to lay down their weapons.
Libyan authorities have retaken control of several prisons previously in the hands of former rebel fighters who fought to overthrow Gaddafi.
Reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Pravin Char